Can Small & Large Churches Work Together?

Elsabeth “Ellie” Black may be Canada’s best female gymnast. She competed at the 2012 Summer Olympics. She won gold on the balance beam at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and  gold in the all-around, balance beam and floor exercises at the 2015 Pan American Games. She has qualified for the Olympics in 2016 in Brazil and carries Canada’s best hope for a medal in those games.

Dylan Armstrong is Canada’s best shot putter having won both the Commonwealth Games and the Pan American games titles, silver and bronze in the World Championship and a bronze in the 2008 Summer Olympics. He has been one of Canada’s best hopes in track and field for the past decade.

Both are exceptional athletes. Both have represented Canada in international competitions with amazing results. Both should be appreciated by all Canadians for what they have accomplished on behalf of our country.

While both are amazing athletes, they are as different as night and day. Ellie Black is just over five feet in height. Dylan Armstrong stands at six foot four. Black weighs in at about one hundred pounds while Armstrong tips the scales at more than three hundred. Ellie Black is tiny. Dylan Armstrong is huge.

Different they might be but both have represented Canada well. Both have won their share of medals and awards. Both have caused Canadians to be proud.

As I was thinking of what to write in this entry, I tried to imagine Dylan Armstrong doing a flip on the balance beam. Then I tried to imagine Ellie Black in a shot put competition. Both pictures brought a smile to my face.

What would happen if someone decided that to be an athlete everyone had to look like Dylan Armstrong? A three hundred pound woman on the balance beam just doesn’t work. Imagine if it was mandated that every athlete had to have the flexibility of Ellie Black. Can you imagine football being played by a group of one hundred pound athletes?

We understand that different sports require different body types and different skills.

 

Large church/small church tension

If we understand this principle in sports, why don’t we understand the same principle in regard to the church?

God uses churches of every size to build his Kingdom.

Wouldn’t it be great if large-church leaders fully appreciated the contribution that small churches make to the Kingdom of God and the other way around with small-church leaders rejoicing in the contribution of the large churches.

Too often rather than rejoicing in each other there is tension between the two.

In most cases large churches see the small churches around them as insignificant. It isn’t so much that the large churches see small churches as competition. They just don’t see them at all. They don’t see the small church down the road as being of any real significant value.

Small churches on the other hand often see large churches as being the place that steals their members and contributes to their remaining small. Their young people leave home to go to school and they begin to attend a larger church in the city. Families, concerned about their children and youth, leave the small church and begin to attend the church that can offer them a wider choice of programs. People complain about the preaching ability of the pastor and begin to attend the large church down the road with the more gifted preacher.

So instead of appreciation for each other’s unique contribution, there is pride on the one side that the large church isn’t like their smaller cousin down the road and jealousy on the other side and a little bit of envy for the resources and people that the larger church possesses.

 

A different perspective

One of my favourite sporting moments came in the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002. After fifty years without a gold medal the chances looked very good that the Canadian men’s hockey team might just break their losing streak. All of Canada was excited about the gold medal game that was to take place on the last day of the games.

On the second last day the much less famous women’s team played for the gold. They were the underdogs in the game. People only watched them every four years when they played in the Olympics and then only a fraction of the people who watched the much more famous National Hockey League players on the men’s team.

Against great odds and in spite of terrible officiating the women’s team won the gold but what impressed me even more than the game itself was the fact that the members of the men’s team were all in the stands cheering them on. The fact that they were many times more famous than the women’s team players didn’t prevent them from getting excited about the women’s victory.

Wouldn’t it be great if rather than seeing other churches as either insignificant or the enemy, if every size church was part of the crowd cheering each other on?

Wouldn’t it be great if large churches could see the small church down the road as equals and as important contributors to God’s Kingdom?

Wouldn’t it be great if small churches could get excited about what God is doing in and through the large church on the next block?

Over the next few weeks I am going to write about some possible changes in perspective for both large and small churches that could result in a greater sense of partnership between the two. It is my prayer that every church, whatever its size, might see every other church not as a possible competitor but as a fellow member of the Kingdom of God.

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