I’ve had a question in my head lately.
What is the difference between a healthy large church and a healthy small church?
If all things were relatively equal, what would be the difference? Do we lose anything or gain anything as we move from one size to the other?
So far, I have thought of two major distinctions. When we move from a small church to a large church, two significant things happen.
Big churches gain specialization.
Megachurches do specialization so well. They have a program for everything, support groups for everyone. This is wonderful. Childrens ministry has a whole wing unto itself, painted for kids, organized for kids. Student ministry is relevant and focused. It is current. Single parents find support. Special needs and mentally disabled individuals have a class tailored to them. Young married couples have a small group that addresses their needs, and so forth.
This is a unique kind of community, a unique opportunity, and a unique type of expertise that only a megachurch can offer. I think this is good. I think this has been a real help to believers. This specialization has been a way of recognizing and honoring the diversity of the body of Christ. But there is a cost. In the process of specialization, there is an exchange. We lose something.
Big churches lose story.
We are all people of story. We are not ourselves, situated on a blank page, a specimen to be dissected and analyzed. We are real, earthen peoples with mud under our fingernails. We do not come individually wrapped. We have context. We come inside stories. I am not just me. I am my grandparents and my parents. I am my home and my work. I am my hobbies and my hurts and my hopes. I am all those things. I am a thousand years in the making.
To understand me, to appreciate me, to find what God is doing in me, you must see me in my story. You must see me in my family. You must see me as more than just a “youth” or a “child” or a “young married” or a “single parent.” I am a son and a brother and a husband and a father. I am mature, and I am immature. I am new and I am old. I am a whole story and part of a larger story.
I think in small churches we see more of the whole story. We know people in families. We see them in their story. We see them more as people and less as categories, and this is very important.
We also see more of the larger story. We hear stories of the young and old. We meet people of every kind of background, in every walk of life, in every phase of life, and somehow in the context of all those stories, we begin to make sense of our story. We understand where others are. We anticipate where others have been. We look back, and we look forward. We see our past and our future in the stories of the whole congregation. And somehow God blesses that. Somehow God writes his story as we tell ours.
But when we specialize ministry, we try to understand people a few pages at a time, without having read the rest. We flip to the index, look up “teen” and then try to make sense of those two pages. But those two pages don’t make sense as just two pages. Or, at least, that’s what I’m thinking…
I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong.
What do you think?