Bigger isn’t always better
There seems to be this fascination in America with the idea that bigger is better. It goes along with speed, strength, accumulation of wealth, and more. It’s also a focus on more. As if what is present isn’t good enough.
In the secular world, businesses are constantly looking for an increase in sales from the previous quarter or year. Some people tend to think that they are better on the road because they drive faster (I’ve got news for you – there’s always someone faster than you). We think we need to constantly be getting bigger, faster, stronger, and more.
Let me be clear – more has its upside. And growth can be a good thing. All of the things I listed have the potential to be good things. But not always. Especially if the need for more or better or faster becomes the driving force. What’s the purpose of more or better or faster or any of the other stuff? Is it just to have more for the sake of having more? That’s not a good reason. Often it means that one is never satisfied. And look I get the idea. Mediocrity is not great. And I’m not arguing for that either. I’m asking the question – why are you seeking more? To what purpose and what goal is more better? Because often we forget that more means more problems to go along with it. It means more resources to manage it. It means more regulations and institutional accouterments. It means more of other stuff that we didn’t think about initially when we said we wanted more.
Bigger is not always better and more is not always great.
When it comes to the church I think there are a lot of people who think that bigger churches are clearly more successful and are experts at what it means to be church. It’s mixing our secular ideas of success with a religious experience. Some larger churches are great. They run smoothly. They have great ministry and a healthy culture. They are good stewards of their resources. Smaller churches can learn from these churches. But not all large churches are healthy. The same could be said of any size church.
Too often we Western modern Christians have come to identify the church with a building, a place. I think that’s a mistake. Again, it’s not to dismiss the building. Church buildings are wonderful tools that can be used for great purposes.
But the church is not a place or a building. It’s a body.
And this confusion causes so many problems. It’s why too many think that bigger is better and a sign of health.
I think one of the chief challenges we American Christians face is this confusion. You see, buildings don’t grow, or change, or die. They can be altered by an outside source, but they themselves are not alive and have no ability to do anything on their own. Bodies though grow, change, and die.
Buildings can be torn down. They can be burnt. They can be destroyed. Buildings can be run down and abandoned. Resurrection isn’t waiting for a building.
Bodies on the other hand live and die. They move of their own volition. Bodies are worked out and can slack off and can also rest. Bodies have action.
Buildings are stationary, unless you go on with a big constructions project with them.
You see, our message in Christianity can be summed up this way – life, death, resurrection.
Bodies live, die, and are promised resurrection. Buildings don’t do any of these things.
And so we have this disconnect in Christianity. We have a lot of folks who identity church with a building and the attributes of a building but not a body. And with that comes the fear of the church dying. Because buildings aren’t resurrected – bodies are.
The church isn’t the building. The body of Christ is made up of the people gathered. The body can use a building though. I’ve seen this done really well many times.
It’s not all or nothing. Just as bigger isn’t always better. Sometimes smaller is better. More isn’t always great. Sometimes less is better. Growth isn’t always healthy – just ask a person who has cancer. Sometimes remaining the same is a sign of health. And growth isn’t always in terms of raw numbers. Sometimes growth is about deeper understanding or stronger relationships, rather than more of these things.
There is a time and season for everything. It’s just that those seasons change and so we are called to adapt as needed, when needed. Attaching ourselves to the way things are for the sake of keeping it a certain way is just as unhealthy as more for the sake of having more. Because in both circumstances the reason is not a reason at all. It’s just a compulsion.
Why? Answer that question and you’ll have a better sense of what to do – maintain or grow or something else entirely different that hadn’t been thought of before.
What’s the reason why. Bigger isn’t better. Understanding why is.
In your post, you said the following:
“…bigger churches are clearly more successful and are experts at what it means to be church. It’s mixing our secular ideas of success with a religious experience.”
I’m not at all convinced there is a “secular” universe in which to mix with. While I am not lost with your remarks, I nonetheless think “secular” is a foreign notion, one that disguises other demons. And in fact, I couldn’t help but think if you changed out that word for “empire,” you might say something even more revealing.
We are mixing with empire in ways we were meant to be called out from – ekklesia???
Bigger/better is an imperial value. In and of itself bigger is not always bad or always better, but in the empire it is the ONLY way and therein is salvation.