Where does real church happen? Big vs. small

February 22, 2009

Today we were pretty sick as a family — lots of coughing and sneezing. So we stayed home rather than go to church and spread the love. And as we stayed home, I thought:

What we call “church” has very little church happening:

large gathering

What we don’t call “church” is where most church happens:

small gathering

I still value larger gatherings for the kind of art-worship that it makes possible (though what I value seems rarer than I hoped). But pastor, ask yourself honestly: where does spiritual growth take place? What would happen if you focused your time, energy and resources there?

Oh, and don’t give me the usual spiel of “they are equal.” Bull crap. If you hold a large gathering every week, how can small groups possibly compete with that? Just add up the man-hours that go into each, and I will show you what you value. If you have a church-in-a-box, if you have multiple services, or if you have a complex flow consisting of more than three things, the large gathering is demanding. It is an energy vortex, and sucks as much as people are willing to yield to it. That is not equal.

So is it possible to do “small” without giving up the benefits of “large”? Sure. Just do your large things less frequently. Say, one large gathering a month?

Update: Hamo weighs in on small or large with an interesting definition of “small” and a more thorough analysis which he made with his large community.

What about you—where have you experienced the most spiritual growth? How do the logistics of your church gatherings help or hinder this growth? Please weigh in with your thoughts, disagreements and questions in the comments below.

Mar. 7 update: Please see my important followup, Todd Hunter: church is a byproduct, in which I address Keith’s comment below.

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

2 responses to Where does real church happen? Big vs. small

  1. Thanks for the caution, bro. But I want to rock the boat a bit because I see pastors give (genuine, well-meaning) lip-service to small gatherings — then keep going on all the large stuff and wonder why their small gatherings are ineffective, then say, “See? Small gatherings aren’t as effective.”
    Boiling down to two points:
    – Learn how people grow, then put your focus there.
    – To keep your large gathering from being an energy vortex, you must work to simplify it somehow.