I’ve been married to a preacher for 14 years now. I’ve been by his side time and time again when, upon meeting someone new or someone we haven’t seen in a few years, he finds himself answering the question,
"How big is your church?"
You guys. It is always the second question. The first is “Where are you now?” The second, “How big?”
Go to a lectureship or college reunion, and you’ll answer this question forty times in a day.
I know some people ask innocently. I suspect they want a sense of the “type” of church. Others may ask because they don’t know what else to say.
But a lot of people ask it for one reason: to see if you’re any good.
The assumption is…
If you’re a good preacher, your church will be big (because you worked hard to grow it or because you were hired to said big church based on your super-great preaching skills).
If you’re bad, your church will be small (because no one wants to come hear you preach or because you’re a bad leader or because no one else wants to hire you).
Most preachers will be average, working at average-sized churches (because that’s how the bell curve works).
I don’t have to tell you that’s messed up. Right?
We live in a culture that measures the value of everything by its size. How many Twitter followers do you have? How many likes did you get? How many people are on your subscription list? How many employees do you have? How much money do you make? How many downloads did you sell? How many people attended your concert? How many voters checked your name?
Size as a measure of value isn’t a Christian idea. It’s an anti-Christ idea. Anti “narrow road,” anti twelve apostles, anti two fish and five loves, anti baby in a manger.
God doesn’t care about size AT ALL. (Growth, yes. Girth, no.)
When, right out of the gate, we ask a preacher what size his church is we perpetuate the myth that size is important, even primarily important.
My husband has worked for every size church on the continuum and always he winces at that question. Because he knows the current size of the church doesn’t indicate a thing—not about the people in it, not about the health of the organization, and not about his skill at his job.
Bottom line, we need to train ourselves out of asking “How big?” and train ourselves into asking better, more meaningful questions.
In doing that (A) we’ll show love and respect for the real life human being we’re interrogating (the preacher). (B) We’ll be standing against the bigger is better brainwash culture daily force feeds us. And (C) in learning how to consider other people’s churches in more legitimate ways, we might learn to understand our own churches better.
As a practical step toward a better way, here are a few things you can ask a preacher that will give you a much better sense of his work:
1. What are you preaching about right now?
- Remember: They’re preachers. They preach. And they actually like talking about preaching. Odds are, you’ve heard a sermon or two. You’re totally qualified for this conversation.
2. What’s going on at your church that excites you?
- Even if they hate their job, every preacher can come up with something. Most preachers have a dozen things. They’ll be so excited to tell you what they’re excited about!
3. What’s on the horizon for your church?
- Who doesn’t like dreaming about the future? And if you’re really looking for insight into a church’s identity, their dreams are sometimes the best place to look.
4. What’s your church best at?
- While each congregation is made of many body parts, congregations themselves can be organs in the body of the world-wide church. Some churches are off the charts givers. Others are servers. Some churches teem with Bible-readers. Figure out what a church does well, and you’ll get a glimpse at what God’s doing.
5. If you had to compare your church family to a TV family which one would you pick?
- This is just fun. Preachers like fun. They’re not universally boring. (BTW Round Rock would totally be the Bravermans).
Good luck with the de-programing and the new conversation starters! I’ll be praying God gives all of us eyes to see as He sees. And lips to ask good questions.