Does Church Size Matter for Unity Purposes?

December 06, 2011

Tuesday Re-mix –

Ever been in the Lego store at the World of Disney?  It’s amazing.  They have HUGE displays of things built entirely of Legos.  It is impressive when you think about the time it takes to connect each of those tiny little blocks together, one connection at a time.

It takes time to do that.  It takes effort to make sure each connection is secure.  But the result is impressive.  And in typical American spirit, the bigger it is, the better it is, right?

There is much talk these days about bigger churches versus smaller churches.  When I first ran this post, Ed Stetzer had just posted this article about Spiritual Transformation in smaller churches, compared to larger ones.  It is a compelling conversation, to be sure.  He encouraged smaller churches to “celebrate your significance”…after all, isn’t scripture filled with stories of a very big God using very little individuals and groups to accomplish world-changing things?  He also points out how important it is for our people to have opportunities to tell their stories of how God has changed them.  His point is that spiritual transformation is just as possible in the smaller church as it is in the large congregation.

But what about church unity?  Is it easier to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” in a smaller church or in a large one?  Is unity in any way tied to numbers?

Back to the Legos…

Unity in a church is nothing more and nothing less than having right, God-honoring relationships among the people of that church.  In other words, it is the individual connections between the people which end up reflecting either unity or disunity.  It is our ability to find Christ himself in one another which will determine how much “unity” we have in a church.

In that sense, then, it is very much like our Lego blocks. The structural integrity of a Lego sculpture depends entirely on the connections between the blocks, no matter how large or small it is. Where the connections are strong, the structure is strong.  Where they are weak, the structure is weak.  Now granted, the larger the structure, the more opportunities there are for brokenness in those connections.  And there may be some added stresses to those connections as a result of the shear size of the structure.  But still, the strength of the structure (i.e., the unity of the church) is entirely a function of the strength of the individual relationships.

Irrespective of size, where time has been taken to make those relationships strong, there will be unity for the whole.  And likewise, where there is no emphasis on strong individual relationships, the overall body will be weakened.  It is pretty simple, really.

I will note one other difference, especially when conflict comes: in a larger structure, depending on where the brokenness occurs, a larger amount of brokenness can take place without necessarily affecting the rest of the structure.  In other words, there can be lots of broken relationships in a large church before it becomes noticeable to the casual observer…there is more “room for error”.  So, as relationships continue to disintegrate, it may take longer for the larger church to completely break apart, just because there are so many more relationships to be affected.  Similarly, in a larger church, it is easier for an individual to “hang around” without ever connecting to another piece and perhaps never be noticed as such.  That, of course, is a “unity issue” of sorts; one I wish were not as prevalent as I know it is in larger churches.  The only way for a large church to stay unified is to continue to insist on the strength of the small groups and every individual’s participation in a small group.

But otherwise, the “big v. small” issue as it pertains to unity is pretty simple.  It all boils down to individual relationships, and whether your church encourages them, teaches them and holds them accountable…or not.

© Blake Coffee

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