What makes a successful church? Today it’s all about the numbers. Attendance, or rate of attendance growth–that’s the measurement of success. Or so you’d assume.

But is the crowd-based model of church the hope of the future? Will the One-Big-Size-Fits-All church be the answer? I’m not so sure. Some indications show that small may be the next big thing.

Christiana Rice co-authored a book entitled To Alter Your World: Partnering With God to Rebirth Our Communities.  And she herself is experimenting with new forms of being the church. And a big part of that is being small. Her expression of church is a neighborhood faith community. It’s a highly relational model, lived out in homes, parks and schools. The smallness encourages deeper relational engagement. And that leads to deeper faith engagement.

Rice describes herself as a coach for missional entrepreneurs. She works with a lot of church planters. With this clientele, she told me on the Holy Soup podcast, “We’re at a crossroads.” She described a difficult tension: “Church planters often come with dual dreams.” One dream involves a “longing for transformation, for lives to be set free by the power of Jesus Christ.” The other dream imagines bigness. She said she hears some church planters say, “It would be so great if the church I start would become notable and credible. Maybe we could figure out the next blueprint. And maybe we could publish a book about it.”

I, too, sometimes hear church planters, as well as existing church leaders and would-be multi-site aspirants, dream of the notoriety of burgeoning crowds. But is bigness the ultimate prize?

People crave community, and relationship. And for most people, knowing Jesus comes through relationship. That looks more like a friend-to-friend interaction than a speck in a crowd. Maybe the church of the future will look more like a neighborhood than a crowded concert hall.

I invite you to listen to Christiana Rice’s intriguing insights in this week’s Holy Soup podcast, here.

Christiana Rice will participate in a session entitled “Small Is the New Big” at the upcoming Future of the Church conference in Colorado. Discover how you can attend at TheFutureoftheChurch.com.