Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Knowing Everyone

The church I pastor has seen some significant growth in our congregation.  Over the last two years we have grown by 19% with membership and 20% in worship attendance.  Now, since we are a small church (currently averaging around 95 in worship) we wouldn't make the Top 25 Fastest Growing Large United Methodist Churches, but I am starting to see some growing pains.

The most recent one I heard that has sparked my thinking.  I have started to hear "We don't want our church to grow too big because we like to know everyone."  It is true, as a person sits in a congregation with 95 people in it, they can know the name of everyone there.  But how much do they really 'know them.'

The truth is, as their minister, I know many of them but there are others I don't really know.  I know their name but I cannot tell you anything about their family history, their likes and dislikes, their children's names or where they live.  I don't know these things and I am the minister!  How well do we really know everyone in the church?

I understand what the underlining thought is though.  I understand this saying is a reflection that the current church is comfortable.  It is warm, welcoming, and people honestly care for one another.  Yet, if we pick apart the congregation, all that really happens with small groups.  People naturally lean towards certain demographical groups due to their age, life experiences, and shared views.  This isn't bad and my congregation is very good being welcoming.  We don't have major clicks.

But when I stepped back and look around, we have small groups within our small congregation.  These small groups are the ones where people feel welcomed and cared for.  It is the people they sit next to in the pew and the ones they talk to during the social time that make them feel like they know everyone..but we really don't.

Change and growth are scary and as the pond gets bigger the big fish don't seem as big anymore.  This all has social implications for a congregation and that can lead to fear and fighting growth.  I am aware of this and my first response is to remind them they don't know as many people as they think but that response is abrasive.  I need to find out how to address the true nature of the comment, speak to the fear, comfort it, and refocus people on why a growing church is a good thing.

How have others dealt with this feeling within your congregations?  This isn't something EVERYONE is feeling but it is something that will come up more and more as we continue to move towards the future God has in store for us.

Any advice is appreciated.


Kathleen said...

Our Sunday school class is huge. We are assigned small groups for just the purpose of getting together for dinner (or dessert) and ending with prayer. Every 4 months the groups are rotated. This works!

Unknown said...

Thank you Kathleen. I agree, the larger the group the more intentional one has to be in getting smaller groups together. Thanks for the comment.

BlackPhi said...

I used to belong to a church which hovered for several years around the 100 mark. Small groups of various sorts (study groups and working groups) were essential, but I don't think they fully address the issue.

I think the feeling of knowing everyone at least by sight, to say "hello" to, is important to a feeling of belonging.

Equally important though is the feeling that even if I myself don't know X very well, I do know Y well and Y knows X well (I hope that makes sense). So it remains one community, not several groups sharing a space.

We never really cracked that: new people would come in and mostly get to know well other new people. There were some people who linked newcomers and old hands, but never really enough.

So when problems arose some of the newcomers drifted, the overall community shrank, and everything went back to the way it had always been. Except the old hands were getting older.

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