“We’re not big, but we’re small.”
That is the slogan of a fictional record store called “The Vinyl Cafe,” created by the late Canadian storyteller, humourist, and broadcaster Stuart MacLean. The Vinyl Cafe was also a weekly radio show on CBC. On it Stuart narrated funny and often poignant stories about Dave (owner of the Vinyl Cafe), his wife Morley, and their family, friends, and neighbours.
The slogan of Dave’s store–We’re not big, but we’re small–has always stuck with me.
Because it is saying that being small is a good thing, perhaps even an advantage. Other words come to mind when I think of it. Homey. Local. Available. Friendly. Accessible. Particular. Personal. Familial.
Know what I mean?
Now, the reason I share this is because I am the pastor of a small church. And for a long time I felt like being a small church was a disadvantage to overcome. As a pastor in this situation, you can–I’ll be honest–feel like a failure. You can feel less than. Insignificant. You find yourself asking, “What am I doing wrong?”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to grow. I’m certainly not saying we should be content to remain as we are. No, no. Christ calls us to live out the great commission, to reach into our communities in love and truth with his good news. That’s non-negotiable. So if a church is small because they are ignoring the calling they have from Jesus, then that’s a serious problem.
No, what I’m talking about is when churches have an inferiority complex. When as a small church we feel like we have less to contribute to God’s kingdom. When, because we think the main point is to continue increasing numerically, we feel perpetually discouraged if that doesn’t happen.
In the book of Numbers, the Israelites scout out the land of Canaan, and they give a report to Moses upon their return. Remember, this is the land God had promised to them, that he was calling them to occupy. He said he would bring them into the land. Here’s their report:
So they gave a negative report to the Israelites about the land they had scouted: “The land we passed through to explore is one that devours its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of great size. We even saw the Nephilim there-the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim! To ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and we must have seemed the same to them.”Numbers 13:32-33
With the exception of Caleb, they didn’t want to go into the land. The Israelites were looking at their circumstances and not at God.
Pastor Karl Vaters, in his book The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches, and the Thinking that Divides Us, reflects on this story from Numbers and writes: “There is no ideal church size. Every size meets the needs of the people who seek them out.”
And this: “Loving God and loving others is not a church growth strategy. It’s not a means to an end. It is the means and the end.”
And also this: “What makes a family healthy and loving has nothing to do with numbers. It should be the same in the family of God.”
Here’s the truth: small churches worship and serve a big God—infinitely big, as it happens.
In an article at The Gospel Coalition by Erik Raymond called “Don’t Despise the Day of Small Things,” he writes that “small things add up. Small things are ordained by a very big God.” The title of his article comes from Zechariah 4:10: For who despises the day of small things?
There are people who will never go to a large church. Maybe they’re really close to the people in their small church and they deeply value those relationships. Maybe they are apprehensive in big crowds. Maybe they even feel a sense of calling to participate in God’s work right where they are. Heck, some might simply want to go to church where everyone knows one another’s names.
God wants to use small churches. God can use small churches. God does use small churches.
Even large churches know the value of small. That’s why in addition to their big gatherings, most large churches also promote small groups.
Every church—large or small—has to answer one question: Why are we here? What is our purpose? The way in which God seeks to use your church will not be how he plans to use the larger church down the road or in the next town over.
So don’t worry about what God is doing with that other church. Instead, don’t underestimate what God can do in yours.
Don’t despise the day of small things.
And then trust that God—who is more than big enough to work in and through churches of any size—can also work through yours.
Consider what Paul says:
Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.Ephesians 3:20-21
This applies to all churches. So remember small church, you’re not big, but you’re small.