Chances are if you attend a conference at a church it's going to be at a sprawling megachurch campus. They have the ability to host that number of people in their facilities, and they have the staffing & volunteers necessary to help hundreds of attendees navigate their campus.
I was struck by this tweet from Mark Clifton about the scale of our churches, and how it's an exception rather than a rule for churches to be bigger. But in the SBC, the median church size is 70, and the average worship attendance is 145. For the overwhelming majority of pastors, their experience won't be in the big sprawling suburban megachurch. They'll be in single-staff churches, smaller churches where they can still name people and where they sit.
I'm a fan of big churches. I like big churches. Big churches get to be big churches because they did little things right along the way. They have faithful staff. They're led (overwhelmingly) by pastors who love Jesus and have pursued faithful excellence for decades. They reach into their communities and serve in hundreds of ministries that smaller churches can't. And in my experience, I've found them to be incredibly gracious and generous with their time, resources, and knowledge to assist churches.
So what can those of us in the baseball stadium learn from those on the jet? I think there are 5:
1. Be faithful to your DNA - God has wired every local church uniquely with a particular set of qualities and characteristics. That's the DNA of a church, it's who they are. And it works for them. And they're comfortable in their DNA. They're not trying to be something else other than who God has called and wired them to be. How do you get there? Fervent, faithful, persistent prayer, coupled with wise leadership.
2. Focus on your one - We forget that churches don't grow because of building projects or advertising, they grow because people in the pews identify and share the Gospel with their one. Personal connections lead to spiritual conversations lead to Gospel opportunities lead to new Christians plugging into a local church. You don't need to have 100 acres to do that. Even a church of 20 can commit to sharing with 20 people over the next year and see what God does.
3. Stay committed - Beyond the logistical and operational issues in a large church, the top reason I think large churches do well is that they have remained faithfully committed to the Gospel. They haven't deviated or strayed into moralism or compromise. Sure you can find exceptions, but churches don't have to be big to get off their commitment to Christ and the Word. But the lesson we can learn from larger churches is that we have been given a Great Commandment (Love God & Love Neighbor) and a Great Commission.
4. Most things scale down - Normally when we talk about things scaling, we're thinking of how they can scale bigger. But scale works the other way as well. Most of the things that a larger church does can be easily scaled down to fit a smaller church's resources (and budget). You can't afford fingerprint scanners for your children's area? You can still keep check-in tags. You don't need 30 screens around campus broadcasting announcements? It works just the same with 2. So often we come up with excuses when we can simply take what's being done and scale it back.
5. Share fellowship - Even in a big church, relationships are still vital, and fellowship is still important. It won't look the same as your church, but you cannot overlook or underemphasize the importance of building community and fellowship. Don't forget how important it is to get your people together in the same room and around their common identity in Christ.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.