Small is the New Big
Growing up, one of my role models was a man named Mr. Joe…GI Joe. He and all his buddies continuously catapulted me into a state of imagination and action for hours on end. By the time I’d acquired five GI Joe figures, I realized that the “good guy” and “bad guy” teams were unbalanced. So I asked and eventually received one more GI Joe. Then a second realization came to me – six was definitely better than five. And if this was true, seven would be better than six. So I asked for another. Soon seven became eight, eight became nine, and nine became thirty. The expansion plan had succeeded; I was a real American hero.
A similar thing happened with my Sega Genesis. Sonic was cool and all… But then Tails came along (who doesn’t want a flying fox?). Then Knuckles (whatever he is) showed up on the scene. And when I got NBA Jam one Christmas, I was all “boomshakalaka!” and “he’s on fire!” It was simple: more games = more fun.
I’ll never forget the day Facebook came to my college. I did, though, forget how many times I accepted friend requests from strangers. I became “friends” with everyone and their mothers (literally). When I surf Facebook today, you’ll often hear me mumbling, “Now…who is this person? He’s not my friend.” But I dare not decrease my numbers by unfriending.
More and bigger have always been patterns in my life. So it only made sense that when I began to work in a church, I wanted to be somewhere vibrant – a place where increasingly more people became involved. And if perhaps all my other pursuits in life were vain or petty up until this point, at least now I was vying for something that mattered. This was Kingdom work.
GI Joe Isn’t My Friend on Facebook
I like “going big”. It seems natural, engaging, and in my skillset to work and interact on larger scales. But if I’m honest with myself, my past reveals that you can only go so big before you have to go small in order to go big. Follow me.
When I finally owned thirty GI Joes, I found I had a problem. My two little hands could only manage to move about 4 or 5 figures at a time. So, I began spreading out the soldiers into smaller battles around my bedroom and would float from one to the other, playing out each scene individually. In my head, they were all happening simultaneously: this epic war occurring in many layers. Yet, in reality, they were each a smaller activity.
The same thing was naturally true with any videogame console. You could only play one game at a time. And sometimes, certain games only allowed one player at a time! With multiple siblings, there were plenty of hours just sitting there, watching the screen, and waiting for my small opportunity to jump in and play.
When I finally got away from Facebook and onto Twitter, I did what many people did: I found a way to see the content that was actually interesting to me. Some people (like myself) decided only to follow a few people. Others followed everyone, but only kept up with specific lists or mentions. Where Facebook had become a bottomless abyss of random people’s rants and raves, Twitter was only the rants and raves of people I cared about (like John Piper and fake John Piper).
Maybe small is the new big.
GI Joe, Facebook, and the Church
Of course, I’m not the only one crying eureka. Churches everywhere are launching more and more small groups, turning down building campaigns and opting for smaller multi-site venues, segregating age group ministries into smaller ranges, adding ministries that deal with more specific stages in life, and so forth. The hip-relevant-mega-church model enabled us to speak into the lives of thousands and thousands of people, but it failed to do one thing: let them talk back.
Don’t get me wrong: I think “big” is still important. Each year my church hosts a Dodgeball competition that brings in several thousand teenagers. I envy the child who gets to peg another kid in the face and then hear about Jesus!
But, what I think we’re learning is that we have to balance our approach. “Big” is big, but “small” is also big. And oddly, of the two, “small” is much more complicated. In a service with 1,000 people, if 20% of the congregation responds to a call to action, that feels like a pretty good success. That’s 200 people! But in a small group of 10 people, if only 20% (2 people) really participate in the Bible study, that’s a level of awkwardness worthy to tweet about.
So, for all the churches who have been praying and planning for the “big” floodgates to open and people to pour in (which we should petition), I think an equal amount of prayer and planning should target some of these “small” areas:
Small Group Curriculum
I can’t imagine that every weekend, hundreds or thousands of people go to your church, sit through the service, then walk away without a single question about what they just heard/experienced. How does your small group setting allow for these questions? How can your curriculum complement the preached sermons and allow for deeper, richer conversations about spirituality? Time and time again we learn that practical ministry happens in these small, direct communities.
The occasional pastoral “shout-out” to serve is cool and necessary, but it hardly suffices as the driving force behind why people serve. Your ministry leaders need to constantly ask themselves the questions, “How do I make my volunteers feel valued?” And, “How do I give them purpose beyond a task?”
Perhaps I’m beating a dead horse, but I’ll say it anyhow: everyone ought to be on Facebook and Twitter. This is the undeniable drift of communication in our modern time (#quotable). Social media allows for increased engagement, increased vulnerability, increased humor, and increased spiritual insight – all the things that we’re trying to smash into one service on a Sunday morning. Why wouldn’t we want more of these things?
There are many other areas I could list. And they’re all small, but also big. My personal goal is to keep remembering the questions. I put so much effort into thinking, “What’s happening this Sunday?” But I need to balance that with, “What’s happening the other six days of the week?” What small things are we doing in order to allow for a big impact?