The Joy of Mini-Church: Part 1
In Leadership Journal I saw a funny cartoon some years ago. A street ran between two churches. On one side of the street was a huge mega-church and on the other side a small mini-church. The pastors of both were fleeing their respective churches and running toward the opposite church shouting, "Finally, this is what I really want!" Mega-guy wants a mini-church and Mini-guy wants a mega-church.
I am going to do a meandering series about the joys of mini-church. While I do not intend to disparage mega-churches, I do tend to view them as celebrity churches. Just as Hollywood elevates celebrities against whom many citizens unwisely measure their ordinary lives and live vicariously through "the stars," so lots of people (and pastors) in small churches get star-struck by and perhaps envious of the evangelical celebrity churches. I do confess that I've learned a lot from Willow Creek Community Church, Saddleback, Mars Hill Bible Church, Hillsong, and other big time churches. But, let's admit it, these are the celebrities among us---us, the ordinary, non-celebrity churches. The average Episcopal Church has 89 members. Most USAmerican churches are 100 or less.
Ed Dobson, long-time pastor of Calvary Church here in Grand Rapids, MI, once said at the Moody Pastors' Conference, "Big churches have big problems; little churches have little problems. So, brothers and sisters, don't envy me because I pastor a big church." I'll never forget Dobson's transparent comment.
I don't want to repeat the recurring litany (cliche) of the small church: Bigger is not necessarily better. Why? Because sometimes bigger is better. Bigness is no sin, but neither is smallness. The fatal flaw in thinking about smallness in a "super-size me" culture is that smallness means or marks failure. Or, smallness represents lack of passion, or comfort with the status quo, blah, blah, blah. Wrong!
I, like most of you, am aware that we're in a massive transitional era in church history. We're in a vast liminal space. Some enduring, cherished, yet merely human constructs of theology are being questioned, debunked and/or reconfigured. Ideas move the world. Theological ideas move the church.
These are the days of highly interactive, global, transitional theology. I, for one, like it. It does not scare me, as apparently it does a lot of my pastor-peers. Even the idea of "pastor" is being reimagined. Great. But in liminal space, the floor moves. Nothing is nailed down. Liminal space needs liminal leaders. For those who need a "nailed down" confidence--an unmoving floor-- these are frightening times. Fear provokes a plethora of panicked idiocy. My advice? Chill. As passionate followers of Jesus and the Jesus Way, we'll make it through. Not without tears and, perhaps, not without scars. Take a hard look at our Leader--the "nailed down" One.
The first joy of the mini-church: I see a gathering of people and I know all their names. I am even learning their stories--their many blessings and their heart-rending brokenness. We're here for each other and we're here for our community. We're not driven by church policies; we're driven by relational trust as we seek to love God and love people. Do we want to grow? Of course, but we will grow relationally and deeply and personally.
I do not miss the days when I looked out on a room of mostly strangers...regular attenders. As Eugene H. Peterson emphasizes: the personal name is the most important part of speech.
"The shepherd...calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me..." (John 10:2,3,14).