How to Have a Big Church with a Small Feel
What’s the perfect size for a church? 50? 500? 5000?
You could make the argument for why each of these church sizes is optimal. At the church of fifty, you will have an intimate relationship with your pastor. You might be in the same small group, he will be there for your child’s graduation, and when you come to a worship service, you’ll probably know everyone (except that one new family) by name. You’re going to be able to step into leadership roles and shape the direction of the church even if you don’t have a lot of experience in leadership. You feel the blessing of the fact that your church is making a deep impact in the lives of a handful of people and you know their stories.
At the church of 500, the lead pastor may still know your name if you’re involved, but there will be opportunities for your kids to get to know kids their own age, a higher quality of musicianship by the band, and more diverse opportunities to serve. You’re not going to get wrangled into teaching the children’s lesson at the last second because no one else showed up that Sunday. Even though you probably don’t have a close relationship with the lead pastor, you have a close relationship with one of the pastors or directors, and feel known and loved by them. You love that your church has a big heart for the community and is making a significant impact in a couple areas of their ministry focus. Your neighborhood is better because your church is there.
At the church of 5,000, you never have to worry about bringing to your friend on a Sunday to hear a boring sermon or an out of tune worship leader. Everything will be done professionally. Children’s Ministry will be top-notch from the facilities to the check-in system to the worship team (yep, there will be a worship team just for the kids). You can check out this church at your pace and wait for the right opportunity and time for you to step into community and service. When you do jump in, you’ll find that the leadership training is high caliber and that you can grow and shift leadership responsibilities. You probably don’t have a relationship with the lead pastor or even one of the other pastors or directors, but you are cared for well by the department lead who oversees your area of ministry. You feel the energy of a church that is making a big impact not just in your neighborhood, but in your city.
Differently Sized Callings
Which of these is the perfectly sized church? All of them. God has called different churches and different leaders to steward differently sized bodies.
I have friends who wouldn’t even consider going to church if it’s not in a home. These cell churches of a dozen or two people can have a powerful impact. I have other friends who would never come to New Life (which had roughly 1,000 on a pre-COVID Sunday) because we were far too small: they want a church with more targeted programming for young adults or a larger youth group. There are a handful of much larger churches than ours in town and most are healthy God-honoring congregations with significant and positive city-wide influence.
At New Life, our desire is to be a big church with a small feel. We have this commitment not because we think it is the right way to do church, but because we think it honors God’s calling on us as a church and our gifting as leaders. We want to be a big church in that we are committed to evangelism and seeing more and more put their trust in Christ. We also want to be a big church insofar as it serves our people. We want to have high quality and safe children’s, students, and worship ministry so that a newcomer feels confident that their children are being loved and protected well and so that congregants can bring their friends knowing that they will have a good experience. Growth isn’t the only measure of the spiritual health of a church, but it is one, and we believe growth is good.
Big Church AND Small Church
We want to be a big church inasmuch as it deploys God’s people to serve in their gifting. We want to have the infrastructure to develop leaders and have them not reach their ceiling. We want to be a big church where people feel like they can come in and there is a seat for them: in worship, in connection groups, and in service. We never want a newcomer to feel like the circle is already full.
We want to be a small church insofar as we want everyone who comes to New Life to feel known and loved. Greg and I are in normal connection groups, and we both lead discipleship groups where we pour into men and women we believe God has given leadership gifts to steward. We want to know those God has called us to shepherd. We try to respond to every email sent to us and every phone call that comes in. We recognize that in a church our size we will not be the primary shepherd in the lives of many at New Life. That is okay. Connection group leaders, team leaders, and others are more likely to fill that role in a personal way. But we see ourselves first as shepherds, now CEOs, and while we might not be the primary shepherd of every congregant, we are primarily shepherds. We want to have our Good Shepherd’s heart for people and shepherd well those God has put under our care. Peter calls elders to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:1). We believe this is God’s call on us as caretakers of his flock.
The Early Big-Small Church
In the book of Acts you see a church that is radically committed to growth and to care, to evangelism and discipleship. In Acts 2 we watch as Peter boldly evangelizes. Luke says that many were saved, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). This group “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42) and cared for those in need. This also resulted in growth, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b).
It is our prayer that being a big church with a small feel also means that we are committed not just to growing the number of sheep under our care, but expending time and resources toward multiplying the greater flock of God. We want to be generous and open-handed in God’s greater work in Tucson and creatively engage God’s multiplying work in whatever means he calls us to do so. That will be last week’s final post on our culture statements.