There is something funny about watching small children run. They do something I call (copying the movie Toy Story) “falling with style”. It seems a bit like they are constantly heading for the floor and their legs have to save them from falling flat on their face. And the older they grow the less instable their running becomes. In the beginning it seems almost to be a matter of time when their legs will reach the point where they are not fast enough anymore to keep the plane from crashing. But with more experience the chances of not falling grow. A routine sets in up to the point where we don’t really run at all anymore. Shortly after toddlers start to walk and eventually grow faster, running becomes their main method of locomotion. Even though they are moving towards certain pain, for who runs eventually falls, and who falls will get hurt.
For a bird, especially for little songbirds, laying eggs and hatching them is a matter of life and death. Their survival hinges on being constantly on the move. They have to hide to avoid birds of prey and they have to be up in the air to avoid every other kind of predator. But when they build a nest to lay eggs they pin themselves to a certain location. They become vulnerable. And yet every year in spring they do not think about their own survival but about the survival of their species. I know, it is all instinct. And they do not consciously choose their species over themselves. But it is still fascinating to see how they risk their lives year after year not to save their own, but to bring forth new life.
And I start to wonder if the church should not be a little bit like that. I mean, our mission is not to form a club that is relationally, economically, and emotionally stable. We are called to go out. Out into the world that needs God’s love so very much. So the church becomes the base of operation and not a self-serving society. (I talked about that in “the unstable church” and I want to expand that idea a bit.) And I came to the conclusion that size can be a key factor here.
Big churches are great. They form a stable platform for a good deal of things we can do. The more people donate money the more we have for big projects like serving the poor. The bigger the church the bigger the influence in the political realm. I mean, the pastor of a 10,000 people congregation will be heard by the mayor of his 100,000 citizen town. He becomes a force to reckon with. And you need a certain amount of people to have enough good musicians for worship and so on. To do things professionally you need professionals. And only a fraction of your congregation is. So the bigger the church the more professionals you will have.
But there is another side to the same coin. Because size brings problems. As an example it brings anonymity. For an observer it might be good that he can slip in and out unnoticed. But when a member of the church can avoid being challenged to personal growth we start to fail our calling. We are not here to enlarge the body of Christ in numbers, we are here to make disciples. And that also includes training people for leadership. The amount of leaders necessary for a church does not grow linearly with its size. One person is preaching on Sunday morning no matter if he or she is talking to 10 or 10,000 people. And the bigger the organization the bigger the need for people who organize it. So a big chunk of our time and effort is not used to make disciples but to keep the machine well-greased.
But we are called to grow. So when big is bad what are we supposed to do? My suggestion would be: Split. Nature is a good example of growth. Our bodies grow by cells splitting. A cell grows to the point where it stretches itself and then two halves separate into two individual cells. On a bigger level organisms grow to the point where they are able to produce offsprings. And yes, the babies need help from their mommy in the beginning. But eventually they will have their own kids. And I think the vulnerable time is actually good for a church. Because making disciples is not an option. It is not something you do along all the other things. It is absolutely vital. Making disciples becomes a life or death situation. If you don’t grow you will die. And yes there is the chance of failure. There is a good chance that we fall on our faces when our legs are not fast enough to keep us running. But when we are all grown up we might stop running completely. When a church is big enough a can survive for a very long time without doing what we are called to do. Stability is not bad in itself, but we humans have the tendency to sit back and relax when everything is going smoothly. And then we fail.
But sometimes you need manpower. Sometimes the more people you have the bigger the chance of success. And that is why I am a fan of networking. Churches should work together. They should help each other to fulfill the mission we are called to do. Small churches need to work together, they need unity. Big churches might be inclined to stay on their own for they can live without anyone else. And working together is good, for it brings more facets of the body of Christ into the mix. We need to run, but when we hold each other’s hand while we are running we can keep us from falling even though everything is unstable.