The Future Is Small

The end of church-as-we-know-it

“If Jesus had a church in Simi Valley, I bet mine would be bigger.”

Francis Chan made the above statement at a conference, years ago, in a personal, satirical effort of perspective and repentance; he would later explain that, “Jesus calls people to so much greater risk than I do,” and “he [Jesus] understood the power of smallness.” He was vulnerably exposing the Christian notion that bigger is better.

First, I want to say that I have been incredibly blessed and inspired by many conferences, books, podcasts, and worship experiences by some of the largest movements, organizations, and names within the church or para-church world. Indeed, the opportunities to hear from some of the most critical and brilliant thinkers in our time has the potential to always push one forward in life.

Some of the most talented bands, creative Creatives, and progressive authors in our nation will emerge from Mega Churches or are headlining huge conferences — and, again, I sing the songs with tears in my eyes and a pounding in my heart. I read the books and listen to the podcasts, taking thorough notes: I am blessed, and I am thankful.

Managing The Bigness

That being said, the Western-Christian infatuation with size is unavoidable, it is unmistakable. I can’t help but feel like we’ve traded our prophetic voice for a popular voice.

Bigger Church buildings, bigger campaigns, bigger budgets, bigger videos, bigger staffs, still bigger conferences, and

bigger phrases with

bigger words with

bigger implications.

Like the most recent tagline from Dave Ferguson at this year’s Exponential Conference, “Become a Level Five Multiplying Church.

I mean, really? Is this not a basic form of creating a sort of christian-cultural caste system — that we find a basis to, quite literally, divide “them” as being a Level 2, but “us” as a Level 4. The Western-Christian infatuation with size is unavoidable, it is unmistakable. Click To Tweet

In so many ways, this makes the common, mainstream church of our world an extravagant, well-meaning pageant show. It becomes “just” lights, sounds, and money. Those things can be agents of art and beauty — worship; but only insofar as they reach an organic and meaningful end.

There are exceptions, of course. And, there are those among us who long to journey well with people, share meals, and care for a place. But, by and large, you could throw a rock and hit a plethora of communities who spend the majority of their energies on “managing the bigness.”

It’s a cycle, naturally: managing the bigness. As vicious as it is reasonable. The thinking is: Growth demands multiplication and multiplication demands growth. We want to be seen, we want to be heard.

So, we survey the hell out of people, build leadership pipelines, missionize everything, make more hires, develop a DNA, and then, if you’re lucky, we hope to replicate and inject all of that —straight into the heart of your town.

#ChurchPlanting. Oh, and then do it a lot. Boom. Level 5 success.

Sounds like fun, right?

Not to be a Negative Norman, but…that’s exhausting. The irony is that the chase for “sustainable multiplication” is unsustainable. The call to decrease is betrayed by language and methods of increase. In our effort to succeed, we divide; and in division, we will be divided: and Scripture itself teaches that a divided house will fall.

Church, we must rethink how we live together. The irony is that the chase for “sustainable multiplication” is unsustainable. Click To Tweet

Something Hopeful

Is this just a rant, a soapbox to stand on and cry about my “dislike of big churches” so that must mean that small is the answer? No. Rather, it is about recovering a rich theology within ecclesiology; it is about the hopeful restoration of our identity as the People of God.

This is not a case against scale as much as it is a case for design.

Jesus notes that the world will know we are his disciples in that we love one another.

Perhaps the earliest pattern of a messianic expression of church finds people who are characterized as “having everything in common.” Indeed, we are born “again,” which is a radically clear picture of family.

Family. Commonality. Love. These are the consistent, identifiably ecclesiological traits of the church. These are the pictures that the Spirit gave at the beginning, and continues to give today. Most importantly, they speak of a theology of love. God’s creation of a Body is his design for the catholic cosmic church: we relate to the whole only to the degree that we know and love the parts. We are born “again,” which is a radically clear picture of family. Click To Tweet

Another indicator that Bigness and scale has drawn us further away from our original design is in our newfound desire for every church to have their own, “unique DNA.” You’ve heard of this, right? Take a lesson from Jurassic World: don’t mess with DNA! But seriously, it is the simple gospel that can inform a much simpler ecclesiology.

The church is meant to reflect family, and vice verse. Families are nuclear and relatively small for a reason. Family is how Story flourishes. Family is how we learn to love one another the best. Family is made of Sons & Daughters.

It is the case that we have exchanged living rooms for conference rooms. It is why we depend on “retreats” to refresh us. What if I told you that we were meant to live a life of refreshment? Instead of a Bride, we so often act like the Marxist Bourgeoisie; instead of a Communal People, we are tempted to reflect the old capitalistic models of Big Business.

The Restoration of Family

It is in the restoration of Family that we will find our identity, once again, as a community of Sons & Daughters.

It is in the restoration of Family that we will learn to share our possessions and have everything in common.

It is in the restoration of Family that we will learn to love our neighbors out of sheer joy and simplicity.

It is in the restoration of Family that we we will regain our prophetic voice.

However, as we cling to the corporate temptation that bigger is better, that hierarchies are needed, and that the “development of leaders” will make all the difference: we do so at our own peril and at a speed that Millennials are recognizing is breakneck speed.

Rather, the brightest future is small. It is in nano-technology, micro-breweries, freelance work, urban farming , and micro-moments — it is in church as family. I don’t know what will cause the western church to collectively make this turn, or what will capture our shared attention –but we need to embrace the “small” future now.

The bigness is overrated and nearing an end. A Mega model works for Corporations who depend on a sense of anonymity, but a church is only as healthy as those that know and love one another, thus why Small will find a home in the future.

More forest, less iPad. More prophetic, less popular. More discipleship, less development. More greatness, less bigness. The bigness is overrated and nearing an end. Click To Tweet