Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Small Churches

Small churches don't get a lot of credit in our country. Bigger is better here, always. Big box stores get way more press than mom and pop operations, if you can even find them anymore (we are fortunate to have a few in Kodiak). We have small churches here, too. People in Kodiak are kinda stuck with them because if they are going to go to church they can't drive somewhere else where there is a big church. Big churches are all the rage in the lower 48. They have the latest audio and video technology, cushy stadium seating, entertaining speakers and music, state of the art childcare, parking attendants, cafeterias, bookstores, and cool websites with their own pod casts. Small church facilities often have a worn out look; they depend on volunteers for everything from childcare to youth ministry to worship leading to lawn care, the preaching is enthusiastic (at best) to boring (at worst) and more often than not, unpolished. Budgets are bare bones so a lot of things that need replacing just get reused. Schedules are flexible and you can't really depend on things running on time, if they run at all. I can see why so many people are attracted to big. Big stores where choice is high and price is low and big churches where choice is supreme, too, and it seems like you get a lot more for your money.

Funny thing though is that most big churches know that the life of their big church is found in the small groups in the church. Big churches are really made up of lots of very small churches. Which makes sense. If small churches in small places like Kodiak "teamed" up more we could share a lot of resources and provide more for our people. Unfortunately, there is usually more competition than cooperation among small churches in small places.

However, the good news for small churches is that usually good things come in small packages. MySpace, the first enormously popular social network site, had 200 million users worldwide in 2007. Yet, the average number of "friends" for a user is a small number: 67. Given the generous definition of 'friend" as anyone from a good friend to someone you might recognize on the street but might not, this number constitutes an average person's social network. And it is pretty small. In fact, MySpace and other social network sites are "collections of small networks of people." ( Culture Making by Andy Crouch, 242). So are big churches. So are small churches. Crouch makes the point that people making a difference in culture are small groups of people. He says: "every cultural innovation no matter how far-reaching its consequences is based on personal relationships and personal commitments." A small group of people is almost always enough! Jesus had his core group of 3; his larger group of disciples numbered 12; at Pentecost 120 were gathered waiting for the Holy Spirit to come. That's good news. In small churches we often feel overwhelmed and under resourced. If only we were bigger then God could use us to accomplish big things. Yet, Crouch illustrates that many of our greatest innovations started from a small group: Google began with 3 people.

We all have our 3 and probably our 12 and we may even go to a church of around 120. Here is how Crouch puts it: "your 3 are the people you know and trust and you share a passion and commitment with. Your 12 is the larger circle of good friends you could call on in a time of need. Your 120 are contacts who would respond to something compelling and worthwhile if you put out the word. In the small church, your 3 could be your prayer group, your 12 your small group or a church committee on which you serve and the 120 could be the whole church!

So who are your 3? Crouch says that is the most important question for your calling. Who are the few people you trust enough to risk creating something together?

"The quest for 3, the recognition that all culture making is local, the willingness to start and end small, all seem to me to be the only approaches to culture making that do justice to the improbable story of God....Christian culture making ...is a matter of community" - and I would add small communities. Small communities can do a lot. They can do what is necessary in the places God has put them. They can make a difference where they are.

1 comment:

  1. Pastor Todd, I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy your blogs. It seems you are always writing about things that are happening in my life as well! Maybe it is because I just finished reading the Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne and the issues of communty and small groups have been on my mind lately. I know my small group here at our church in Seattle truly makes life great. I am also going to Ohio on Monday to visit my parents so the blog about ID and science was very interesting to read because I deal with atheism and those issues every time I go back. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!