Small church mentality?


There is an idea floating around out there that small churches are inherently resistant to change.  This is often called a “small church mentality” because the conventional wisdom is that every church will be growing numerically if it has the right attitude.

However, small churches should not be disparaged because they are small.  Size is not a determinant of faithfulness, authenticity, or effective ministry.  But small churches get labeled (or should it be libeled?) as having a “small church mentality.”  Don’t believe me?  Here’s an example from Twitter just today:

“Moving from small church mentality and accepting the pain and disagreement that brings.”

I am not trying to pick a fight here, but I have several problems with this comment (I realize that this is the digital equivalent of eavesdropping, but you’ll just have to forgive me).

First, I am assuming this is a pastor talking about trying to transition his church from a small one to a bigger one (I have deleted the identifiers from Twitter).  My question would be, “What is the mentality that you label ‘small church?’ Is it a reluctance in the church to do what you want to do, or is it a resistance to be the church God intends?  Because there is a difference.  I have led churches to do what I wanted them to, and most of the time it turned out okay.  But I fully realize now that some of my vision was not anywhere close to what we should have been doing.

Secondly, why does the idea of change in a small church assume the presence of pain and disagreement?   Just for the record, I’ve experienced my share of congregational discord.  I’ve been there and done that often because what I represented as God’s will was simply my willfulness.  Not attractive in a pastor, by the way.  Pastoral willfulness is a kind of religious “my way or the highway” all dressed up in spiritual language to justify it.  I know this is true because I’ve done it before.  Everything from Sunday School reorganization to selecting pulpit furniture, I let it be known that I had the right answer.  I’m not saying this pastor-tweeter is guilty, but that attitude does tend to create some pain and disagreement.  However, my more recent experience is it doesn’t have to be that way in a church, small or large.

Finally, do we as pastors have the right, much less the calling, to insist that our congregations follow our vision, which might fundamentally change something about the church that some members value?  Or let me put this another way: Are we like the U. S. Army commander who said of the Vietnamese village they had just leveled, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it”?

Church change will create some anxiety.  But change (read, conflict) can be managed positively.  When it is, then both pastor and people come out in new places neither had dreamed of before.

Before we start invoking the myth of “small church mentality” we as church leaders need to examine our own approaches and motives.  If our attempts to bring change are instead bringing pain and disagreement, it could be we need to take a step back and listen, love, and learn from the faithful folks who are part of this expression of the body of Christ.  What do you think?  Am I completely wrong here, or do you agree?

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3 Comments

  1. I think you are on target. I am managing a similar situation where a previous minister had the “my way or the highway” attitude. He actually had good ideas and I am finding that my congregation is open the same ideas, they just don’t want to be forced to do it. They just want the change to come at their pace not mine. They appreciate it if I am patient with them.

  2. I come across this attitude a lot: Somehow ‘small’ includes a ‘mentality’: You see it in big theatres when talking about small community theatre groups or small theatres, and in or big cities when talking about anything rural. It’s a funny mindset and I think it says more about the person saying it than anything.

  3. Not sure if there is a “small church” mentality but there is a “my church” mentality. And like it or not some church leaders want it there way no matter what and will resist any and all change from any and all sources. This can be in the heart and mind of the pastor or a lay leader. But it is real. Even if you pray and most of the church wants to move in a certain direction, these leaders will put their road blocks up and since they are loudest, they win.

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