Whenever we think of successful churches we tend to think big – a place the size of a hypermarket where every need is catered for. If this is the image you hold in your head and you are in a small church it is little wonder that the future can seem bleak. (Though I am aware that not every small church feels like this, and not every church member would want to be part of a large church.)
The problem of course with large churches is that it is easy to get lost in the crowd. They can feel too large and impersonal. It is for this reason that larger churches have to work hard to be small.
The leader of a reasonably large church said to me recently that Celebrations – the large meetings are great for worship, but impersonal for fellowship. The Cell – The micro meeting is great for fellowship but can feel too intimate and therefore intimidating. The question he was struggling with was where to put community engagement and equipping Christians to look outward.
His conclusion was what he called Community a group of about 30 people who had something in common – they all lived in the same area; held the same interest; worked in the same profession who could together connect with those out there like them.
I found this fascinating because the vast majority of churches in this country are fewer than 50 members. Just the size he was talking about forming.
This set me thinking.
Recently I had had the opportunity to spend an afternoon in the centre of Bath and like other large cities it has all the major chain stores. They are the same UK wide. But it is not those hypermarkets of consumerism that give a place like Bath; or Oxford; or York; or Edinburgh, or Cardiff or any major city their charm. It is the small intimate; one-off; unique shops. They are the ones I am drawn to and fascinated by. Those shops that compete by doing one or two things well, that accomplish what the large retail chains can’t.
Maybe this is how we ought to regard ourselves as smaller churches, not as aspiring hypermarkets but as small boutiques. Offering a unique, tailor made, not mass produced service. I mean no offence to the large churches. I simply want to say to the smaller churches why hanker after what you may never become when you have something special that makes you fit for purpose in your locality and able to engage with your community in ways that the larger churches could only dream of?
The Entheos Trust exists to encourage church leaders and equip congregations to engage in effective mission. We provide resources, offer a regular newsletter and run training events like ‘Bridging the Gap – Helping Church Leaders connect Church and Community’ and a new event ‘Fit For Purpose – Equipping Your Congregation for Effective Engagement’.
Richard Hardy Director of The Entheos Trust www.theentheostrust.org