Big vs. Small

January 9, 2011

David Sorn

Today's teeter totter: Big Churches vs. Small Churches. Should there be a balance? Are there redeeming qualities about both?

Big vs. Small

January 9, 2011

David Sorn

Today's teeter totter: Big Churches vs. Small Churches. Should there be a balance? Are there redeeming qualities about both?


Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor of Renovation Church.

This morning we are going to talk Big Churches vs. Small Churches, and I’ll set that up in just a second, but I was thinking this week about how both can be pretty odd cultural experiences…even for those who grow up in the church

I’ve been both to what was once one of the top 2 or 3 biggest churches in America and possibly the smallest church in America and both were weird.

I went to Willow Creek community church (size 18,000) about 5 years ago. It was a trip. The parking lot was like Rosedale mall, the eating area was larger than the foodcourt at rosedale, and they had escalators! I just kept riding up and down.

On a very different note, when I was 19 and in college, I was with a friend in Des Moines, and I’m not sure why, we decided to pick a random church in the phone book and visit it.

Took us a while to find it (it was so small, it looked like a house). We showed up 15 minutes late in the middle of a worship song that all 12 people were enthusiastically enjoying. However, as soon as we walked in, the song abruptly stopped, and they turned to us and said, “BROTHERS! Welcome! Tell us your names!”

TWO completely different experiences...but yet both…the church. But see because they’re so different. They’ve created…a Teeter Totter effect.


And we are continuing in our Church Teeter Totters series this morning, which is a series where we’re really trying to stretch your MINDS on what the church is all about, and what it should look like.

If you were gone last week, OR this is your first time at Renovation, let me fill you in.

We introduced last week the concept of the pendulum. And, how in in church history, the manner in which church is done, changes over time.

Yet, when we zoom in on a particular section of history, it looks more like a teeter totter.

The teeter totter represents two issues, yet, too often what we have is people tend to just take extreme positions on one side (A TEETER TOTTER), and no one tries to be a balanced thinker in the middle.

By the way, I didn’t say this last week, but here’s how the pendulum and the teeter totter fit together.

When you get to a point in history when everyone starts sitting on same side of the teeter totter, humans always respond with, “Wait, haven’t we gone too far? Somebody should be on the other side.”

And the pendulum starts to move.

So last week we covered the controversial TEETER TOTTER topic of entertainment vs. authenticity in churches.

And we also talked about if we are going to think through this series well, we need to first be balanced thinkers when it comes to Black/White thinking VS. Gray thinking.

Meaning, some things, especially the process in which we do things is not NECESSARILY right or wrong

So for instance, is it right for churches to use an organ or a keyboard? Is it right for churches to use video screens for worship or hymnals?

It’s just a process, a way of doing things, and process doesn’t always have a right or wrong. IT CAN, but often it doesn’t.

So keep that in mind as we get into today’s topic


Today’s topic is going to be Big. Vs. Small.

And I’m talking about Big Churches vs. Small churches.

So let’s set up the teeter totter again.

On the one side, you have the mentality that Big Churches are better.

If God is moving, the church should be big. God’s obviously not moving AND reaching people if the church is small. Plus, the big church can do everything better, have the right programs, etc. etc.

On the other side, you have the mentality that Small Churches are better. They have good community, you can actually know people, and weren’t the original churches small anyway?

Christians in America are super opinionated on this topic. We tend to really malign churches that are different sizes. Especially if they are a different size than the one we prefer.

And like last week’s topic, this wasn’t as big of a deal 50 years ago

Because 50 years ago there wasn’t a lot of variation to church size in America.

The vast majority of churches were 80 people, or 100, 200, 300.

The Megachurch didn’t really exist 50 years ago.

For a couple of reasons.

One, suburban sprawl hadn’t really happened in mass effect yet.

Not just in the U.S., but around the world, people have been moving from small rural towns and into cities at an amazing rate

So 50 years ago, a lot of people went to church, in their town. And because we were more of a rural society, even if everyone in their town went to the same church, there wouldn’t be enough ppl for a megachurch

And before suburban sprawl grew exponentially, people had such a thing as: town pride. They did stuff in THEIR town. They went to the grocery store in their town. They supported the hardware store in their town.

I remember when I was 9 years old growing up in Cambridge. It was 1991, and the Cambridge basketball team went to state.

And they had a town-send off to go to the state tournament.

The team came to my elementary school and we cheered for them as they left.

Back then, towns like Anoka were a town to themselves. There used to be space between it and other towns. Same with Blaine. This used to be sod fields.

But now towns/suburbs just blur together.

The Blaine football team went to state this year, and I bet 70% of Blaine had no idea.

Towns used to have more of a parish mentality to things. In the Catholic church, they have parishes. And even this isn’t honored as much as it used to be, the concept is this: Each city (even large ones like Minneapolis) has zoned parishes, and if you live in a certain area, you go to church at a designated area. You don’t cross parishes.

When I went to church growing up, before I was a Christian, if we ever saw someone at our church who didn’t live in our town. Say they drove from Princeton or North Branch or something. We would look at them like, “What’s wrong with you?”

But now that’s all changed right? With suburban sprawl, you might live in Blaine, but you work in St. Paul, you shop in Roseville, you go to the movies in Coon Rapids, you go to the doctor in Maplewood, you see the dentist in Andover, so why should it matter where you go to church?

And thus people have no problem driving a little ways to churches

And on top of that change, certain churches also began to become much more relevant than others (like we talked about last week), so ppl were willing to drive a ways to get to those churches.

And thus, because of those factors, the megachurch movement started to explode in the 70’s and 80’s. What wasn’t possible 50 years ago, is now vastly changing the evangelical landscape of America.

In 1960, there were 16 megachurches (over 2,000) in the U.S. Today, over 1,300!

And I don’t know if you’ve spent a considerable amount of time at a large church or not, but a church of 2,000 people is a considerably different experience than being at a church of 70, 100, or even 170.

By the way, the average church in America is 95-100 people.

And what happens, because the experiences at a church of 3,000 and a church of 150 are SO different, a teeter totter develops.

And people start feeling passionate about one particular side over the other.


And the side that has taken a lot of shots recently is the Megachurch.

Because, well, after all, can you really be a “Church community” at 10,000?

Let’s read the famous description of the early church in Acts (we actually covered this during the Fall as we were reading through ACTS)

(Acts 2-42-47) - FAKE VERSION

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe by their light shows and huge Christmas productions done by their pastors. 44 All the believers were together but no one actually knew anyone’s name. 45 They gave their possessions to the church, but no one actually personally knew anyone in need, because again they didn’t know anyone at their church. 46 Every week they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes but usually did so alone or with their immediate families, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their record attendance.

Okay, so, I made that up. That’s not real. Here’s what it really says. Notice the difference.

(Acts 2:42-47) – NIV

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

It’s IMPOSSIBLE to read this and NOT recognize that church is meant to be lived out in community where you KNOW people and they are caring for you.

Or, just think about all the things the new testament tells or commands us as followers of Jesus to do (and try and picture doing this while attending a church of 3,000 where you know no one):

Pray for each other. Confess to one another. Encourage one another. Challenge one another. Disciple one another. Hang out with one another. Provide for one another in times of need. Give hospitality to one another….AND THE LIST GOES ON..

When you start to read in the NT about what it means to “BE THE CHURCH,” it gets very difficult to conceptualize how it would be possible to do all of those things in a church of 2,000 where you know no one.

Does it really “count” as “church” just because you went to some building with a cross on it on the morning of a Sunday?


And here’s what happens. Just like last week.

We look at that. That evidence. And we say, “The megachurch. The church with the parking attendants. The church with the bookstore larger than Johnsville library. The church with the comfy chairs where I know no one.” That. That.. IS WRONG!

We just created a TEETER TOTTER.

Sometimes I have people come up to me after visiting here a few times and they say, “We just LOVE Renovation Church!” So, I ask them, “WHY?”

And I’m just waiting for them to say, “It’s the speaking.” But people say, “Because it’s not big yet!” “It’s still small, and small is good.”

Hmm. Kind of.

Small CAN be good. But not always.

Sometimes small is terrible. Sometimes small is awkward. Sometimes small can even mean…a lack of spiritual vitality.

And here’s where the debate starts to get a little bit more dicey. Small churches and big churches fight a lot about the CONCEPT of numbers.

Small churches say to big churches, “All you care about is Numbers!”

And big churches say to small churches, “God’s not moving in your church because you’re not growing in NUMBERS.”

And small churches answer back. We’re not about quantitative growth (we’re about qualitative growth). Spiritual growth. We’re about real change!

And that has been THE rallying cry of small churches for decades! “We might not have grown a single person in the last 10 years, but we’re about radically changing people’s lives, not about attendance.”

And let me show you the philosophical and theological error of that statement that small churches have defended themselves with for years… Because I think it’s one of the main reasons people get stuck on the side of a teeter totter.

Think about this: Have you ever seen someone who’s been radically changed for Jesus? They are “ON FIRE?”

What do those people do? They can’t help but do this: If God is radically working in them. They TELL other people.

It’s as if they can’t help but tell.

And this is a challenging statement, and maybe it makes u feel uncomfortable: “But a church that is radically changing people for Christ but not growing…is a myth.

It’s an impossibility

Now, even really good churches are going to have seasons where they aren’t growing or even declining.

But over longer periods, growth should be a sign of spiritual vitality and health.

But we answer back, yeah, but God doesn’t care about Numbers!

Hmm… that’s not necessarily true either. See people, are numbers, and you better believe God cares about people.

In fact, a lot of people don’t realize this, but the Bible goes through a lot of effort to mentions crowds and numbers in the New Testament.

Look how often the Gospel authors take the time to mention the crowds who come to see Jesus. Why? Because crowds mean something’s happening.

Matthew 4:25 Large crowds... followed him.

Matthew 8:1 large crowds followed him.

Matthew 13:2 large crowds gathered around him

Matthew 15:30 Great crowds came to him

Matthew 19:2 Large crowds followed him,

Luke 11:29 As the crowds increased,

Luke 14:25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus,

In fact, the Bible cares so much about it, that sometimes it almost looks like a megachurch counting its people

Matthew 14:21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men
Mark 8:9 About four thousand men were present
Luke 9:14 (About five thousand men were there.)
Acts 2:41 three thousand were added to their number that day.
Acts 2:47 the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Acts 4:4 the number of men grew to about five thousand.
Acts 5:14 more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.
Acts 6:1 In those days when the number of disciples was increasing,
Acts 6:7 The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly
Acts 11:21 a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
Acts 11:24 and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Acts 14:1-2 here they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed.

And we could go on and on and on.

When God is really moving, people come. “One of the fruits, a result, of God moving in ppl, SHOULD be new believers.”

And unfortunately for too many small churches, the “It’s not about numbers” thing has become an excuse.

And let’s not forget what the great commission, the great mission of the church is:

Matthew 28: Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations

That’s why we start new churches! Yes, part of it is to disciple people who know Jesus, but it’s mostly to reach people who don’t know Him.

I didn’t just gather 70 people who were already Christians and get them together so we could now do our own thing the way we like it.

That sounds more like a cult than a church.

The church’s mission is outward, not inward.

And if it’s outward, than we ought to see some growth.


Yet, many of you have had some bad experiences in big churches…or even in small churches.

You went to a big church for years: No one knew you, or no one noticed if you came or didn’t come, or if you never got involved, and it didn’t even really matter.

OR, you went to a small church, smaller than this. It was too odd. Or the people were too gossipy, or it didn’t have enough going on to really make a difference. Or, it was just too weird to even invite a friend to.

And we have these experiences…and then, like the humans we are, we just pick a side. Right. Wrong.

Big churches are what God wants. Small churches are what God wants.

Cuz big and small are not inherently bad in and of themselves. Some of the best churches in this country are small churches that no one’s ever heard of.

AND some of the best churches in this country are large innovative, trailblazing churches, that are helping 100’s of people get saved and know Jesus Christ.

And let’s stop pretending like that’s such a bad thing.

“Oh, you know that church in that one suburb that has like 14 services and 12 campuses where the Pastor’s on video. (sarcastic) Ha, like that’s what Jesus had in mind when he was thinking of church.”

Well, I tell you what he didn’t have in mind: A church of 200 people that hasn’t brought a single person to Christ in 10 years.

I just don’t know why we let ourselves get so worked about churches that are bringing 800 people to Christ a year.

Well, I do know actually…jealously. Envy.

And Some of you just don’t like Jesus’ bride very much. Jesus’ bride being the church. The whole church. Not just your church. The whole church

We are called to be one. To learn how to work together. Learn from each other

( 1 Corinthians 1:10) – NIV

10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.

One of Jesus’ last prayers on earth was that we, as a church, would be unified.

Yet, I regretfully stand here today to inform you that the devil has unfortunately tricked us Into turning on each other.

And for what?!? “For using a different method than we would to help turn people from sin and embrace Jesus?

That’s what we’re so mad about? That’s what’s got everybody talking?!? Really???

I think we need to repent. And ask forgiveness for shaking our heads at churches just because they’re a different size.

Listen, I don’t care if they meet in a cathedral that holds 5,000 or somebody’s apt. that holds 14, if they’re teaching the Bible and reaching people for Jesus, how is that not a good thing?!?

I find the words of the Apostle Paul here to be great and challenging advice here. These are words that have really spoken to me. I myself am a recovering hater of churches that are different than my preference.

Look at what Paul says in regards to those who are preaching about Jesus just to be competitive with Paul. Or just to show him that they’re not stuck in prison like he is, so they’re better.

(Philippians 1:15-18) – NIV

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.


Now, let me be exceptionally clear on what the answer is going to consistently be from this teeter totter series.

It is NOT to look at different methods and say, “It doesn’t matter, they’re both completely right.”

No, I’m not asking for people to NOT look with a critical eye. You might still look at something and say, “I think we could improve that. I think we could change that here” Let’s be good thinkers.

But the answer is to start looking at churches that are different from you in process and be okay with saying, “And that’s okay. God is using them.”

But we can still think critically on it.

Because even in this topic, the church should be a good balance. The church should be a growing place that’s reaching people, BUT also a place where people know each other.

It’s why we do House Groups here.

Even if you throw, now a 160-some people in this room at one time, and that’s not 3,000, but even at 160, you can easily be a face in a crowd.

So even at Renovation Church, you could be missing out on some key aspects of what Church is already.

And that’s why we offer House Groups. A place where 20-30 ppl come together each week to be in community, hang out, learn together, fellowship together, challenge each other in small groups as well.

And it’s a beloved aspect of our church.

That’s why over 80% of our adults are involved in a house group!

Because when you can experience that small church feel. Where people are praying for you, challenging you, or you just get to hang out with some other Christians…when you get to experience that…you realize, “There’s something good about the small church”

And some of you need to check out a house group this week. Sign-up today.

But there’s ALSO something really good about a growing larger group of people coming together to meet for teaching and worship too

We’re looking HERE to build a model not that different from the early church

We read earlier today (in ACTS) that the early believers met together (by the thousands) to listen to the teaching of the apostles in the Temple (a megachurch if you will)

But then they met in homes together for fellowship

So, it never has been, even from the beginning, been about SMALL being right. Or even now, about BIG being right.

There are great aspects of both.

And both should be pursued continually. Small community. And growth.

And hear me on this now. In 2011… as we are beginning to start to grow a little quicker as a church now.

We have to be a church that balances this teeter totter well.

We mustn’t do the easy thing and tilt to one side. So, here’s what I mean: Even if we were to keep growing, and say we became a church of 400 people someday…

My vision for this church, is that at 400, we are balancing this teeter totter just as well.

That at 400, we still have over 80% of our people in house groups.

Yes, I know that’s 320 people in House Groups. And I don’t care.

Cuz if we’re not going to strive for balance like that, if we’re not going to dream big like that, than what are we even doing?

Our God is MORE than capable.

Let’s continue to trust Him for amazing things.

Let’s pray.

Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

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