I started to let this go. First, because you can’t comment on everything you read in blogs; and, secondly, I could not believe I was actually reading it. But, I can’t let this go. Here’s why: Small churches deserve better than Bill Easum’s recent response to Tony Jones at Emergent Village.
Easum critiques the emerging church community because most of its churches are small. Tony Jones asks Easum to explain why he is critical of small churches, and here’s part of his response:
“You have to put this in the context of my experiences with small churches and my understanding of evangelism. Small churches are usually small because of their small, petty attitude. That attitude can be negative, it can be elitist, it can be mean-spirited, or it can be just plain content with the status quo. But I have never found a small church that has been small for many years to be a healthy environment.”
Ouch and wow! Okay, I’ll try to keep this rational and courteous, but for the life of me I can’t imagine why anyone, much less a leading church consultant, would make that statement. Almost 90% of the churches in America are small churches. Are all those churches “negative….elitist….mean-spirited..content with the status quo”? The answer clearly is a resounding No!
But, Easum quotes scripture, or at least refers to it, to make his point…
“My experience has been if the church is faithful to the Gospel it grows—period. I could say the same thing about a house church or small group. I base this on the Book of Acts—it is about the growth of Christianity and suggests to me that God wants the church to grow and spread. Read the story—it goes progressively from addition, to multitudes, to myriads of growth.”
Of course, if Easum had read Rodney Starke’s book, Cities of God, he would know that Christianity actually grew at about 3.4% per year for the first 300 years. So, Easum overstates the growth of Christianity, and fails to note that many of the gatherings of Christians in the book of Acts were small gatherings.
But, more disturbing is Easum’s contention that there is something wrong with small churches by virtue of their smallness. In The Way We Will Be, John Zogby, of the global polling firm Zogby International, writes…
“The church of the future will be a bungalow on Maple Street, not a megastructure in a sea of parking spaces. It’s intimacy of experience people long for, not production values.” -p 215.
Small churches thrive with the attributes that many people seek — intimacy, hands-on ministry, an opportunity to participate, and the ability to know other members. It is the kingdom of God whose growth we seek, and for God’s kingdom to grow each community of faith plays a different and vital role. I’ve seen more church pathology in churches who value growth at any cost than I have in the small churches I’ve encountered.
Easum owes small churches, small church pastors, and members of small churches an apology. Or at least the opportunity to hear our stories, walk in our shoes, and witness first-hand the effectiveness of ministry in America’s small churches. What do you think? Am I wrong, or do you have a different perspective?