Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Joy of Mini-Church: Part 3

Family. The greatest joys, the deepest heartaches.

One of the joys of mini- versus mega-church is that people want a sense of family. I admit that it is possible to create a "family feel" in a mega-church, but it's not easy and it's not the same as being a family. Sometimes people will gravitate away from a big church saying something like, "We just felt lost there. We could come and go and no one would even know. So, we wanted to seek out a small church where we could develop a sense of belonging...of 'family.'"

Those who know more than I do about these things tell me that the moment you choose to be a "family" church, you have immediately limited your growth potential. At a certain growth point a church will not feel family-like anymore. Some line is crossed and the church becomes "an organization" or "a team" or (gasp!) "an army." Mega-churches work like mad to break their bigness into littleness--with connecting church, house churches, small groups, or "platoons." I think that at some point the very forms of bigness work against what the "church" is supposed to be. I could be wrong.

My question is this: why do we have to outgrow the sense of "family"? Who says with any kind of binding authority that being a family church is a bad thing? I get out my New Testament and review what God's up to in calling out people for his Name and I see "family" everywhere!

I know that the first century familia was not the same as the USAmerican "nuclear family." The familia included a man, his wife, his children and his slaves (with their families). Yet, the family was a working metaphor for the called-out ones of God. We are the "household" of faith. We have a common Father and older Brother. Even Paul chose to use the family metaphor to shape his apostolic ministry, telling the Thessalonian church that he served among them like a "nursing mother" and like "a father." He didn't throw around his apostolic weight; he demonstrated family love. Moreover, and most strikingly, Jesus said, "Who are my mother, my sister and my brother? Anyone who does the will of my Father, that's who!" Jesus redefined the family--the new people of God.

When our daughters were younger I would sometimes refer to one of them as "old-what's-her-name."

"Oh, Da-aaad! You know who she is."

Of course, that's what families are for: a place where you are known. Not tagged with a sticker that reads, "Hi, my name is John." And it's not just your name that matters. You matter, and your entire story is held as a sacred trust. You are not your story, but you and your story are honored and challenged and transformed "in the family."

I know that's what bars are for, too. "Cheers"--where everybody knows your name.

Mini-church is family size. We're small enough to create a common family story and yet big enough to do more in and for our community than any one (USAmerican nuclear) family can do. A Trinitarian God-shaped relational community exists and it seeks to spread the love and the joy. The idolatry of the USAmerican (Christian) nuclear family is dismantled in the presence of a serving, missional, multi-gifted spiritual family where there are no "big shots."

Turn in your Bibles to Luke 4, and pass the green beans and potatoes...



At 8/21/2007 4:44 PM, Blogger kent said...

My internship placement and first church were both in Iowa. In fact they were less than 20 miles a part. When I got there the only thing I knew about Iowa was that it served as a rest stop between New York and LA. When I got to Fort Dodge for Inernship I discovered that the church didn't just feel like family, they were family!! About 40% of the church was related somehow. Then in my first little church of 55 souls I discovered that some of them were actually related to the folks up in Fort Dodge. The theme song for my church then became "We Are Family" by the village people.

At 8/21/2007 6:21 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

a great story and what a fitting theme song...

"WE are fami-LY!"

I was in a church once and was told, "Don't gossip about anyone in the church. They are all related!"

At 8/22/2007 6:16 AM, Blogger flyawaynet said...

I'm always struck when I read your posts talking about your church. It's just not that often that you hear a pastor stop and sincerely tell how great their church is.

It's not about boasting, it's about genuinely loving. It's terrific to read.

At 8/22/2007 8:41 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

I think that pastors should affrim their churches in loving, truthful ways. Paul did it in many of his letters.

It doesn't mean the church--any church--is perfect, but they are people in whom the Spirit of God is at work

At 8/22/2007 1:00 PM, Anonymous ezillmer said...

GREAT series, Rabbi. Looking forward to more.

At 8/22/2007 1:57 PM, Blogger John Frye said...


Why, thank you very much!

At 8/22/2007 10:23 PM, Blogger preacherman said...

I am a minister of a small or mini congregation and it is a joy. We are a congregation that feels more like family. I love the relationships that we share with oneanother. I have been at larger churches but this mini church has been the best experience in ministry that I have had yet. This has been such an excellent series that I have been enjoying.

At 8/23/2007 5:45 AM, Anonymous jeremy bouma said...

Wow...what a breath of fresh air to hear someone revel in the smallness of church! Now that I know some of our story from our early morning Thursday chats, I marvel that someone, in the midst of all the church hyper-growth voices, would enjoy a small church as compared with the larger church you pastored beforehand.

You're certainly example for young pup seminary students like me, and I'm thankful we became friends so soon in my pastoral journey :)

Thanks for this, John,

At 8/23/2007 7:22 AM, Blogger The Gyrovague said...

I am deprograming from a mega church of 14,000.. to a church of 80 that is just getting it's feet wet and growing, what an adjustment.

I appreciate your heart for the smaller church. I think bigger churches can retain the family feel...but they have to really work at it.

At 8/23/2007 10:45 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

the gyrovague,
Blessings on the deprogramming. I wish you well.

I agree that the big church has to really work hard at the "family feel."

At 8/23/2007 1:08 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Keep enjoying your church there in Texas.

At 8/23/2007 1:10 PM, Blogger John Frye said...


I am grateful to be able to "compare" serving a large(r) church and now a smaller one. Without being adversarial, I think the smaller churches get to be and do the Gospel without all the trappings that come with successful bigness.

At 8/23/2007 10:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

God's church is a wonder and a marvel isn't it. The body of Christ, how many belong to Him, i wonder. Over all the passage of time, all the souls of this gathering waiting for the time that the Lord comes for his people. my dear brother in Christ, God bless you.

At 8/24/2007 9:54 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

the church is a marvel and I hope we never stop loving her no matter the shape she's in...

At 9/03/2007 6:07 PM, Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

John, I think its a great sign of the work of grace when there is that family feel of love for each other. And when that's lacking there is a sign of the decline of God's grace at work, I'm afraid. I'm also afraid it can turn into little more than a social club or cozy clique. But now I'm getting into something less than the family Jesus speaks of as those who seek to follow him.

But, yes, you're so right. Good post and points!

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