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The Future Is Small

Why bigness will be 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.

But 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.

And, of course, some of the most talented bands and creative musicians in our nation will emerge from Mega Churches or headlining huge conferences — and, again, I sing the songs with tears in my eyes and a pounding in my heart: 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 2016's Exponential Conference, “Become a Level Five Multiplying Church.

I mean, really? Is this not a basic form of creating a sort of cultural caste system — that we find a basis to, quite literally, divide “them” as being a Level 2, but “us” as a Level 4.

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 inso far 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. In our effort to divide, we will be divided: and Scripture itself teaches that a divided house will fall.

Church, we must rethink how we live together.

Something Hopeful

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. Family is not City. They serve two different purposes and they are meant to exist for one another, not as each other.

The church, it seems, is confused. Instead of a Bride, we so often act like the Marxist Bourgeoisie; instead of Family, we operate as City. Instead of a Communal People, we are tempted to reflect the old capitalistic models of Big Business.

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, urban farming — it is in church as family.

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 they know and love, 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.

But what if the Mega Church became something different?