While the senior pastor was out of town he received a message that one of the church members had fallen ill. She was hours away from death. The pastor immediately contacted his newly-appointed associate pastor with the news.

The woman died later that day.

When the senior pastor returned to town, he learned his associate never attempted to contact the dying woman or her grieving family.

It turns out that the younger pastor never made any hospital calls during his tenure at this church. That didn’t fit his concept of what “big-church” pastors do. Never mind that this is not a big church.

He also bristled at the senior pastor’s suggestion to learn members’ names. “That’s just a small-church mentality,” he said. He believed that a small or medium-sized church will grow only if it adopts the ways of big churches.

His mindset is not unusual in the American church scene. Many churches and their leaders are smitten with the ways of the large church. They eagerly attend megachurch conferences, devour the books of celebrity pastors, and seek to emulate the methods of any church with more than 1,000 parking spaces.

In fact, big church parking lots have attracted a lot of big-thinking admirers. Not long ago I visited a two-year-old church plant conducting services in a middle school. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, I knew this was a big-thinking church. There were four guys in fluorescent vests directing traffic in the tiny lot. The final car count: 12. Kinda cute, I guess.

While it’s common for people in any endeavor to look up to the big and famous, I wonder how healthy and effective “big-church thinking” is for the 99 percent of churches that are not big. Has numerical bigness become the tacit mission?


If “big-church thinking” isn’t always a healthy approach, what’s a better way for the average church? Some suggestions:

1. Thank God for the gathering in your midst, regardless of numerical size.

2. Whatever your size, think like a small church–personalized. Faith, and the nurturing of faith, are relational endeavors. Relationships aren’t mass-produced.

3. To be fresh and effective where you are, look beyond the established behemoths for inspiration. Most breakthroughs don’t come as a result of copying the big status quo. Starbucks, for example, did not break through by attempting to emulate Folgers or other big coffee brands.

Rather than thinking big, perhaps it’s time for some humble Jesus-style thinking. The Son of God stooped to tend to sick and dying individuals. And he bothered to call people by name. (The record is unclear if he utilized vest-clad camel lot attendants.)