Why Unfriendly Big Churches Are Bad – But Unfriendly Small Churches Can Be Dangerous

Heart band aids Why Unfriendly Big Churches Are Bad – But Unfriendly Small Churches Can Be DangerousPeople are only capable of having relationships with so many people. We don’t need studies to tell us that. We know it instinctively.

That’s why we all behave differently in a large crowd than we do in a small group.

When there are thousands of people in a room, we expect to be an audience, so we become one. Even the presence of a few hundred people causes us to slip into the role of passive observer instead of active participant. That’s not to say that a large crowd is bad, but the mere fact of its size causes us to act more passively, even in church. We put on our polite crowd smile and become an audience.

But it’s different in a smaller group. We expect people to say hello. We hope for connection. We want to be a part of the conversation.

Today’s post is not a slam on big churches. None of my posts will ever be that. Instead, it’s intended to serve as a caution to Small Churches.

Friendliness is not more likely in a Small Church. But it is more important. 


Why Friendliness Matters More In a Small Church

Because of crowd dynamics, people expect a degree of anonymity in a big church. So if they feel a little lonely, that’s OK. They put on their big crowd face and soldier on.

But in a Small Church, it’s very different. People come to a Small Church expecting (at least hoping) for connection. They often want it so badly that they feel frightened and exposed by the mere fact of driving into the parking lot.

Walking into a Small Church for the first time can be an act of great vulnerability. They know there won’t be anywhere to hide.

So when someone feels ignored in a big church, it’s pretty bad. But when someone feels ignored in a Small Church, it can be downright brutal, even scarring to their heart and their spirit.

Friendliness, warmth and connection are not automatic in any church. Big churches know this. Small Churches tend to forget it. And when we forget it we can hurt people deeply.

An unfriendly Small Church can be a dangerous thing.

Big churches are aware of crowd dynamics, so most of them work really hard at overcoming the pull towards anonymity. Many of them succeed and are very friendly. It may even be one of the reasons they became big.

Small Churches need to work just as hard at friendliness, warmth and connection as our large church counterparts do. Maybe even harder, because friendliness is more expected and needed when the crowd is smaller.


Don’t Assume Your Church Is Friendly – Help It Get There

A friendly church doesn’t just happen, no matter how big or small it is. Church leaders have work at it, train people for it and be constantly vigilant about it.

Don’t assume your church is friendly just because the regulars have to be herded out the door so you can lock up and go home.

Make friendliness a priority. It may be one of the main reasons spiritual seekers visit your Small Church. And a lack of it may be the main reason they never come back.

Taking an honest look at your church’s friendliness quotient may be difficult and discouraging. Just a few weeks ago I was made painfully aware that our church isn’t doing as well at this as I thought we were. But we have to stop assuming. We need to know the truth.

No matter how friendly our church is – or how friendly we think it is – it can always be friendlier. So it’s essential that we do whatever is needed to become more welcoming. Because when we do, we can help change someone’s life.

Being welcoming and friendly is about for more than putting (or keeping) butts in church seats. Just as an unfriendly Small Church can cause great damage, a truly friendly Small Church can be an important first step towards mending people’s hearts, awakening their spirits and preparing their souls for eternity.


So what do you think? How intentional is your church about being warm and friendly?

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(Band-Aid Heart photo from danisabella • Flickr • Creative Commons)

What do you think? We'd like to know.

  1. Good word! I can recall many times hearing a parishioner talk about how friendly the church is, yet watch them avoid a newcomer like the plague! Man is it tough getting this point across sometimes!

    • I know, right? Being friendly only with my friends isn’t enough. But, boy is it hard for a lot of us to look outside our comfort zone and bring others in to our friendship circle.

  2. Great article, Pastor.It’s actually amazing how well you explain the dynamics behind the symptoms.I can totally relate.

  3. Maybe you should define “friendly”.
    “Stand up and tell us your name,” is not friendly, its intimidating.
    “Turn around and greet three people,” is less intimidating, but still…
    Greeters at the front door, yes, but that’s expected and they should show more interest than just shoving a bulletin at you, and how often are the greeters so busy talking with each other that they actually block the entrance!
    Being a retired pastor, we have been looking for a church. Recently visited a nice small church, actually the people were friendly before the service and during the meet and greet time. Well,,,, Friendly to a point, to say welcome, but not to show an interest in who we were.
    Having pastored for years, I tried particularly to talk with visitors, this pastor, shoved his hand at me during meet and greet, said his first and last name real fast and vanished.
    After the service – zero, zip, nada, apparently we had turned invisible.
    “Friendly” in my book would to be that at least someone got a little bit acquainted. Maybe even if the circumstances were right, say something like: “A group of us (or my wife and I) are going out to lunch would you like to join us.”
    That nice little church which we visited twice and had thought maybe we would settle there, has no idea who we are or that we were there.

    • I agree completely, Derrill. Especially on those first two points. It’s been so long since I’ve been in a church which does it that way that I didn’t consider that some churches might still do it. Yikes! Natural, relational greeting and friendliness is the answer. It’s weird that we’re able to do that in most other settings, but in church we get weird about it.

  4. I truly believe that just like every other part of my life (of worship), I continuously need to beat my body and make it my slave.It’s not easy being friendly in general, but it’s a choice I have to make regardless of where I am.We are visiting a small church now and the illumination of the Word is really powerful.Before it was lovely knowing that my Pastor knows my name, but now in an unfamiliar setting, I tell myself that I am there to ultimately serve my Father’s purpose. If people are friendly, then that is a bonus.

  5. Your article is right on target! Our congregation of just under 140 has come a long long way in the past year and we’re growing. We stopped giving our name, rank, and serial number. and started asking questions, like, “Do I know You? Do you have kids in school, Do you have any idea how nice it is to see you, what’s your good name? We stopped being a welcoming church and became an “inviting” church. “Sit with Me, join our group, come to lunch…” The key is to give people value, not a welcome. Our people have discovered the impact of, “You’re Incredible, we only have incredible friends, you’re the newest ones, and we’re glad you’re here.” Valuing people changes the entire dynamic. I try to get around to as many people as I can before and after worship just to love on them. I try to especially find the new folks but also the folks that have been there the last couple weeks. Our fellowship has recognized the difference that makes, and are following the example. It’s really fun to come to our church just for the fellowship. I often tell the congregation, “A smile costs so little and makes so many people happy you should lavish it on every one just for the joy of seeing how people respond to it!” Recognizing the value of people is making our small church successful.

  6. Thank you for your article. We have been in a small church for three years, but are looking at changing to a big church because my 10 year old daughter feels so unwelcome by the three other girls her age there. I am concerned about the ideas she is picking up about her self worth and her willingness to initiate and reach out to others. She is introverted, but has become more so over time. We several things about the small church we attend, but we desperately need church to be a safe place for our two children. We want church to be a place where they love and learn about Jesus, not feel rejected by other kids their age who have been there forever. After teaching SS and plugging in for three years, we just don’t know how to change the kindness factor of a couple sets of kids and their parents, and so we are looking at moving on to a place where our kids can feel the love of Christ in the Body of Christ.

    • Kim, I’m so sorry to hear that your daughter is going through that. My family left a Small Church where I was pastoring for exactly the same reason. Thankfully, he led us to a church that loved us – which also happens to be small. We’ve been here 21 years and counting. I pray you’ll find a church – whatever size it is – where your daughter can feel loved and appreciated.

  7. I read recently that a pastor told the people who attended his church that if someone new sat in “their”pew that was to be an invitation for them to take them out to eat rather than say you can sit there today but don’t sit there again,

  8. Pingback: Big and Impersonal, Or Small and Pathetic: Are Those My Only Church Options? | New Small Church