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I met with an older wiser pastor friend recently who questioned whether Brian and I were doing everything "right" since ikon isn't massive yet, isn't growing quickly but is still growing and definitely isn't as big as WIllow Creek's version of a twenty-something bible study.

I listened. I paused, leaned back and pondered. I examined what we're doing well, not well, the aspects we could improve. I imagined us doing everything "right" and doing it for a long time. Then I pictured what we'd become in the end. I realized, we still might be small - we'd probably be small. And I was OK with that.

I explained to the wiser man sipping sweet tea across from me that I believe doing what is "right" when you're a minister won't always result in measurable growth, won't always look successful on the outside. I confessed that there is room for improvement at ikon and admitted that Peter sure enough grew his church by thousands each week doing right. But I also refreshed his memory about Jesus, the perfect minister, who, after three years of perfect ministering, healing, feeding thousands and appearing to five hundred with holes in his newly resurrected hands and feet STILL had less than, it's been estimated, two hundred followers on the day of Pentecost shortly after his ascension.

"Besides," I said, "I know every name and every face in the crowd at this size and they can find me and talk to me face to face right now too. We can discuss - I don't have to just lecture. They can interrupt me when I'm speaking and ask questions and we notice when a regular isn't there. People like to be noticed, to be missed."

Then HE looked puzzled. He paused, leaned back in his seat and pondered. "Yea, I see where you're coming from but I bet you can get those numbers up..."

I went home, hopped on my laptop and reread these words from Seth Godin, marketing preacher to the numbers obsessed business world, and I dreamt of the day when pastors get what CEOs are beginning to: Small is big sometimes.

...Small means the founder makes a far greater percentage of the customer interactions. Small means the founder is close to the decisions that matter and can make them, quickly.

Small is the new big because small gives you the flexibility to change the business model when your competition changes theirs.

Small means you can tell the truth on your blog.

Small means that you can answer email from your customers.

...A small restaurant has an owner who greets you by name.

...A small church has a minister with the time to visit you in the hospital when you’re sick.

Read the rest of Seth Godin's thoughts on the greatness of small here.


Blogger Charlie said...

Shaun -

No real insight to add to yours, but to say that our church, when building a new building, intentionally capped the size it could handle at around 90 people. We want to be a small church.

It's easy to see "growth" in the numbers of people who come to church each week. The better lens (in my mind) sees growth as the depth of the relationship between people in the community.

Blogger Charlie said...

And ... I know ... 90 might be huge to some churches. I'd actually rather be a bit smaller.

Check out The Rule of 150 in Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point for more on this.

Blogger DissonanceIsBliss said...

Church growth should be measured in depth, not breadth. I tend to think that massive churches have a "lowest common denominator approach." How often does Joel Osteen actually preach anything substantial from God's Word?

Anonymous tunz4jesus said...

Small doesn't pay the bills. I know I will probably get flogged for this. I do have faith, I promise. My leadership team is really struggling with this now as we plan to put up a new multi-use center just to accomodate the new people.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say as a member of the Ikon community, that I truly do love the "smallness" of it. I don't think it is really that small, but it is definitely better than the high school youth group I grew up in. There, the only reason people knew me was because I ran the sound board. And no one talked to me. At Ikon, probably everyone recognizes me, and I know and love those in the group. It's a friendly atmosphere to ask for prayer, receive prayer, or just be in community with a group of people struggling with the same things as me. I think Ikon is just the right size.


Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Thanks Amy. Means a lot.

I forget sometimes ikoners might be lurking about this place. Thanks for lurking - and for sharing.

Blogger ks said...

I don't see why there can't be room for big and small. I'm not a fan of big churches. In fact I hate them and I hate the orginzation and mass appeal planning that makes them. But honestly, if you're doing what's right, preaching the Gospel clearly, and your numbers are growing because of that (and maybe that alone), I don't think that we should automatically point at it and say "too big. God can't work with that anymore." The important part is, like dissonanceisbliss said, depth of teaching and relationship. I think there's room for that biggness and for the tight fellowship of small groups. Becuase the problem I see with many small groups and churches is that they become very inwardly focused. They like each other so much that they stop worrying about the rest of the world. Big keeps that in perspective. Small keeps the fellowship part in perspective.

Blogger NerdMom said...

I think that there is a place for both large and small. It sounds like Ikon meets all your groupls needs and that is wonderful. I go to a very large(in my opinion) church. I found that my comments were to large so I just posted a response over at my blog;).

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just be. I love small and deep studies, where there's time and space for all to share how scripture makes them stand in awe. If it's been predestined to be a big study, it will grow in its time. Carry On!

Blogger Seth Ward said...

i guess the thing that bothers me about the whole conversation that you had was that after those great examples of the power of small numbers and how "numbers" is not directly proportional to your effectiveness, the pastor still said..."hmm...bet there is still ways to get those numbers up." In one ear and out the other.

It is as if i could profile the race between itunes and burnlounge with Churches and Numbers. Numbers mean more people. more people means bigger success. Big success means big money and new buildings and on and on. While God uses the American Church in amazing ways, and i have no place knocking what big Churches do, the Corporate Church in America is a bit scary sometimes.

Billy Grahm learned about God and Jesus in a little sundayschool room with 6 other little boys and girls. (Incedentaly so did I and probably half the people that read this here) Sometimes i get soooo tired of the numbers race with Churches. Pastors actually competing with other churches for the most baptisms in a month. Its actually less of that stuff these days and more about attendance. I was talking with this Pastor who was interviewing my wife and myself to do music there and all he could talk about was how "they just couldn't break the 3000 mark in attendence" In that same city my Dad pastors an inner-city church, deciding to stay in the inner city because there were no other Churches in that area. The attendance rarely gets up over 350 yet so many lives have been changed that would have ended up in jail because of people who did not abandon that area for big corporate churches.

Anonymous Loren said...

A good distinction would be people vs. diciples.

If we stive to disciple people and help them meet with God, rather than butts in seats approach.

10 more disciples is a lot harder than a great marketing campaing that brings in 100 visitors (ironicaly I am producing the easter marketing campaign as we speak, go figure)

Here is to working on Saturday!

Blogger marianne said...

Lurker here. :-)

Anyway, I think it's difficult to "be small" in a mega-church. Small groups fall under a bigger umbrella of one ministry or the other. Seems everyone is grouped by age or marital status and despite appearances that there is a place for everyone - maybe there really isn't always. Possibly there are a lot of people left out on the fringe.

And maybe there shouldn't be "a place" for everyone to fit in perfectly. I like the thought of the old and young mingling and learning from each other. The single, divorced and married all walking alongside each other and maybe not exactly understanding each other at all.

And I think Small Being the New Big must look a lot like that. Not sure there is much Fringe Area in Small.

Anonymous bgrayduck said...

Oh for the world to understand this. I'm so tired of a churches success being measured by numbers. I at present, go to the "biggest church in town" but after working there for 2 years, I have seen the cancers that are attacking the church. Cancers that no one is willing to tackle, partly because with that many people, there "must be someone taking care of it". So often I drive by the "little" church close to my house and wonder.. and pray. What would I find inside? A family? Caring? Genuiness? But what about my friends at the monolith? Ugh.

Blogger Jackie R. said...

I grew up in 2 churches - one of 35 and one of 600. I was on staff at Willow Creek... I currently go to a church of 100 people... so I have been all over the map.
There is *absolutely* room for both.
I experienced the most amazing authentic community of my life at Willow through my small group and the sub ministry I served in. Sure... Bill Hybels can't visit a sick person in the hospital - but you know what - there are hundreds, even thousands empowered underneath him to do ministry... the priesthood of all believers.
Sure Willow has it's problems - major, major ones... but if you knew so many of the people I knew on staff there - they look at numerical growth as wonderful because they are trying so hard, working so hard (sometimes too hard) to reach as many people as they can... they want to reach as many individuals and minister to as many as they can. I wish you could know their beautiful, loving, sincere hearts - so I wouldn't read the bitterness I do here and all over the internet... Let's LOVE each other. gosh.
Yes, growth must also be in depth... not just in numbers but in their mindset - it's what you are taught in biology - If it's not growing, it's dying. I know that is simplistic and I couldn't possibly coherantly express and explain all I want in a comment but thought I throw my 2 or 3 cents out there.
I just think it sucks that people would call a ministry "Willow Creek's version of a twenty-something bible study." when it (Axis) is an entire ministry to 20 somethings which has medium sized and small groups within it... serving groups... all kinds of smallness within the bigness. I have discipled girls that are a part of the Axis ministry for the past 5 years (until I moved to Colorado) and they have some of the most amazing community - authentic, biblical beauty that I have seen before.
I just write this because I wish people would not be so black and white. Big has it's benefits and it's detriments. Small has it's benefits and it's detriments. Do we have to always undermine the "other side" to make ourselves feel better? I wish we wouldn't.
Sorry, I am not meaning to sound as frustrated as I know this is coming across... I have to sleep so I can get up and go to my little 'emergent' church of 100 people (with it's benefits and detriments).

Blogger NerdMom said...

I totally agree with Jackie R. There are pluses and minuses to both sides and neither is inherently wrong. I loved my smaller church and I love my big church. I have also been in big churches and small churches that had huge problems. It is where God has you now. I do believe if you aren't growing you are dying. If your roots aren't growing you are dying. To take the analogy a little ascew of norm. A plant that grows to fast on the surface(ie without proper root structure) will get leggy and either branches or the whole plant will die. It is better to be small and deep than big and surfacey(new word;).

Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Jackie R, no bitterness here. A good friend of minee is on staff at Willow Creek working in the Axis ministry. he came from the church I'm at today. The mentor I was having lunch with knows this friend well also. Axis was the MENTOR'S example, not mine. Axis is a tremendous ministry - more than twenty folks running it, a large budget, full-time counselors, state of the art technology etc. And much life change coming through my friend's teaching as well I'm sure. I'm not slighting Axis or any other large ministry. But it is in fact "Willow Creek's version of a twenty-something ministry." I don't know why that would upset you as it seems to have.

I'm also not again large ministries. Paul and Peter has them at times. Billy graham has one. Bill Hybels has one. But, bringing it back to Axis, that ministry's not as large as it once was is it? It's shrunk in recent months hasn't it? Does that mean something's gone horribly wrong? No. My friend is an excellent communicator and studies hard, prays diligently - he's the closest thing to a perfect pastor I know. Could it be that instead of something going wrong at Axis, God is choosing to do something new? Could it be that God uses the large and the small to make His points to our slow-learning minds, to shape His people until they look like Him?

I know you'd agree with that Jackie. God is diverse. You know that. You were simply, it seems to me, trying to make sure I understood that too - that I knew God uses the big things too. I do. But God using big things is something we're already convinced of so that was not the subject of my post. Weall went to The Passion of the Christ and we all read The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Life Devotional Book and The Purpose Driven Children Books...We know big. We know God is in big sometimes. Telling us what we already know and accept as true is boring, pointless, and not my job at SHLOG. Provoking us all to ponder what we DON'T accept as true is.

I can't write about a subject from every angle. But I swear that if I leave out your angle the comments will always be here so you can fill in what I've left out. Which you've done well. My one complaint about how you did it was insinuating that I'm bitter about big and that I'm not loving, specifically, the folks at Axis. As I've said my friend runs Axis. I love him so that hurts. How untrue.

Let's agree on this and call it qits: Small is not ALWAYS the product of wrong doing or disobedience to God. It does does not ALWAYS mean God isn't present and pleased. Neither does being big ALWAYS mean we've done something right or well or that God is present and pleased. If only size were the measure God cared most about. The eyes of the Lord search throughout the world looking to support those whose heart is completely His - nothing in there about size of the building or congregation.


Blogger Jackie R. said...

Hey Shaun,

Thanks for the reply. I actually got to your blog through a former Willow staff member so I figured you had some Willow connections. I agree - It is Willow's 20-something ministry but your entry says "Willow Creek's version of a twenty-something bible study." That was what I was taking exception to... regardless of who said it - so maybe it was just mistyped?

Some/alot of my frustration was with comments made before mine (sorry, I should have been clearer on that) not totally the post... like when I said bitterness - that was in regards to comments - not to you. I read back over my comment and realize that I didn't make that clear at all.

And I do agree that ministry sizes will wax and wane and there is not always a correlation with right and wrong - I think I just wanted people to understand that there is a wonderful heart to many that work and minister at Willow (which you know)- that's it's not just about #'s. I don't know that I even agree with the "if it's not growing, it's dying" deal" - but more communicating that, that's the logic many at Willow work according to - so people can see the logic they are working from.

Absolutely God could be doing something new at Axis... then there's just been so much transition (over the years - not really right now) & that naturally will throw things off... However, I have seen consistent positives from Axis for the last several years... on all levels of the ministry.

The Purpose Driven Life stuff all drives me insane :) - but that's just me and I know it ministered to many.

I have also heard great things about Darren from Axis attenders. It's hard to come into Willow and stay centered as it sounds he has - kudos to him.

I do agree with your final statements... I was on Impact (the high school ministry) staff and we were considerably smaller (like 50%) than the numbers there had been a few years before us. That was b/c we were building depth into the ministry - going deeper rather than wider... so clearly lack of growth doesn't mean bad things. There are reasons I am in a small "postmodern" church now - the mega-church is not for me... Before I moved to CO I was contemplating leaving Willow for a different structure. I guess I just hope that people (again - referring to commenters, not you) would be able to acknowledge that there are positives to that structure and it does work for some people... even if not for them.

Seems like we are mostly on the same page - my fault was not clarifying that my response/much of my frustration was to previous comments rather than your post... I do enjoy your blog - a good variety of topics & thought provoking ones as well.

Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Thanks Jackie. 'preciate it.



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