Random Thoughts on Big Churches vs. Little Churches

I was going through my fishing tackle, getting ready for the coming season. I came across one of my reels that needed to be respooled with new line. I didn’t have the line I needed, so I decided to go to the store. On the way I remembered that I also needed some fish food for my aquarium fish (kind of a funny coincidence). I thought, “Where can I go and find both fishing line and aquarium fish food?” Wal-Mart, of course.

Now, I hate Wal-Mart and just about everything they stand for. They are single-handedly wiping out lots of small businesses in every town they enter. Right before arriving there, I changed my mind. I decided I could go to the local tackle shop for the line and stop by the pet store on the way home – dealing a blow to corporate America.

I pulled up to the tackle shop. It was 4:55 PM on a beautiful Saturday in March – the kind of day that guys go to tackle shops. I walked up, and much to my surprise, they were closed for the day. No explanation, no listing of hours, nothing but a locked door on what should be prime time for doing business. I gave up, went back to Wal-Mart and got the line and the fish food.

Tackle shop owners complain about big box stores that take their business, In a similar way, I sometimes hear small church folks complaining about the big churches taking away their people. Both the shop owner and small church pastor say, “We can’t compete” and, “they can offer so much more than we can”.

But there is a lot that the small tackle shop (and the small church) can offer that is better than the big boys. The problem often is that they don’t. What do I mean? Small tackle shops can get to know their customers by name, know their individual preferences, and connect them with special deals. They can – but all too often they don’t. The guy who runs the particular shop I stopped by on this trip isn’t overly friendly. And though I have been in there multiple times, he doesn’t know me from Adam. I have known other tackle shop owners who greet me by name when I come in and say, “Hey, I’ve got something here you are going to love.” They know me. They know what kind of tackle I like. And they offer me deals and discounts for being loyal. They know how to meet my needs.

A lot of small churches resemble the closed shop. They don’t do particularly well at greeting, they aren’t very personable (except to their long time members), and they don’t give a guest much reason to come back. Ironically, these things which a small church should be able to do much better than the big boys, are often handled better in the larger churches.

Now, you may be thinking, “People visiting churches shouldn’t have a consumer mindset. If they are only looking to have their needs met, they are there for the wrong reasons.” There’s a lot I could say about that, but the point is people looking for a church want their needs to be met. It may not be all they are looking for, but it definitely matters. So they visit the small church that doesn’t meet their needs (it may not even be “open” at a convenient time). So, they go to the big box down the street and find what they were looking for.

Moral of this long story? If you are in a small church – focus on what you can do well! Pay attention to your guests, treat them well, try to meet their needs. You may find out that you are just the church they are looking for. Jesus went around meeting people’s needs. In fact, he often focused on that before focusing on the spiritual stuff.

4 thoughts on “Random Thoughts on Big Churches vs. Little Churches”

  1. I agree Chuck. I went to a very large church in NC and there were so many things I loved about it, but when I moved to VA and started going to Crossroads I started to understand the inherent strengths in a smaller church.

    1. But, my point is also that the smaller church must intentionally focus on the person walking in the door. It has been my experience that a lot of smaller churches (and by this I mean smaller than Crossroads) don’t do a very good job of meeting the needs of new people walking in their doors. And, they wonder why people don’t come back. There are smaller churches out there that do a great job of this. They get it!

      1. I am building a Web site for a small, local chcruh. The chcruh is small and is in a small, quaint mountain town. There’s a spot on the site that would be appropriate to list a scripture. What would be a good one for the front page of a Web site? If it had to do with mountains / nature, even better!

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