You're gonna need a bigger boat.
I was conversing on the phone today with the Rev. Dr. Mark Forrest and he had a very interesting observation, putting it in the form of a question even though we were not on Jeopardy!
We were discussing the mindset that is prevalent that a bigger church is a better church. He asked what programs (insert name of well known SBC mega church in our area here) had that we don't have, etc.
So many of these church growth conferences give the impression that the mega church is where it's at and the VAST majority of churches out there ought to just have their heads bashed against a tree to be put out of their misery if they can't attain the elite status of mega.
They often (though albeit perhaps unintentionally) give the impression to the smaller churches that they just can't compete. Given that and the propensity of people to jump ship to the bigger, better deal one can easily become convinced that to land these consumeristic sharks you're gonna need a bigger boat.
Your building must be bigger. Your choir must be bigger. Your children's programs must be bigger, etc.
It's this last one that I find interesting.
There have been occasions in the life of our family whereby we have pondered sending our kids to a Christian private school. What was one of the huge selling points? A great student to teacher ratio. They let us know that their classes are such that you never have any more than a 1 teacher to 12 kids ratio or whatnot. In contrast, they will note, you're looking at 1 teacher per 20-30 kids in a public school. Now, concerned parent, which is obviously better?
But ... take that to church. Hmm. As they drop off their kid the parents realize that there are only 8 kids in that class with little Johnny. That's a concern.
Like Mark said, "What's the difference between the 4th grade class at (insert name of that church again) and your (Providence) church?" Mark's brilliant question: "Why don't they value a good student to teacher ratio in church like they do in school?"
I thought to myself and said, "Good point. In fact, I'll put my class up against anyone's. We've got a husband and wife team teaching. They are the parents of four and he has a 4 year Master of Theology degree and a Ph.D. in education. We keep a good student to teacher ratio. Why is it that in church folks want more kids in a room with not enough adults and that's a good? Our curriculum from Children Desiring God rocks the house.
But folks don't typically think in those terms. Folks have been more trained to look at the exterior of the building and see the size of the church as the more important factor in having a better church life/experience, even with regard to kids slooge.
Why is that? I think it's because we see the bigger church as successful and want to be on board with a winner. It's hard to be a Rangers fan, but it's always easy to be a fan of the team that has just won the World Series or the Superbowl, etc. There's a sense of prestige being associated with such a winner, like a mega church.
I said all that to say this ... smaller church person/pastor, you have nothing of which to be ashamed. You may not be able to "compete" in certain areas, but those are the areas that really define true success anyway. Do what you do well and in an excellent manner for the glory of God.
As your church is healthy and your faithfulness sees God graciously add to its number, rejoice, but do not gloat and certainly don't lose sight of what's most important.
If you're a Rangers fan you can relate. Other teams have bigger payrolls and it's easy to have some envy in the standings. A manager still wants his team to play hard each game and put a quality "product" on the field.
Yet, aren't even the Rangers an illustration of the bigger, better deal syndrome? They built the Ballpark in Arlington in 1994. The new stadium drew more fans which meant more tickets (tithing units or TUs as their seen in church growth circles). So, the team has more money it can spend on players, etc. In 1996 the team made history, the Rangers made the playoffs for the first time ever. From then on expectations have been higher for the team.
I said all that to say this, I wish we could better educate Christians ... nay, "church shoppers" as to properly measuring quality in a church by looking at things like doctrinal fidelity, depth of instruction, values, and vision for the glory of God in all that is done. It's typically, however, the window dressing of a church that gets all the evaluation, good or bad.
We're called to be fishers of men and some would tell us, "You're gonna need a bigger boat" in order to catch fish in our era. Perhaps, but I would be inclined to think that Jesus might rather tell us that we're gonna need the Holy Spirit and faithful diligence to get the job done.
If you get a bigger boat, praise be to God, but you don't need it to be successful.