“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
It's true, Andy Stanley said it, "Don't attend a small church." You can see the video clip here. To his credit he apologized for it on Twitter:
In some ways, I actually agree with Andy. He wasn't entirely off base. As a Student Ministries Pastor for almost 20 years I can tell you there is a huge benefit to having Middle School and High School separate. A larger church can do that and they can offer programming that is high quality and second to none. Smaller churches, like the one I currently serve in (about 200 on a weekend), can't offer the same kind of programming and options of the larger churches. It is also true that parents are sometimes selfish when they choose what church they will attend. That said, it is my experience that more parents choose a church for the sake of their kids, sacrificing their own comfort.
I have been on staff in both large and small churches as a Youth Pastor and now as a Lead Pastor. Church size and youth group size has always been a contentious issue. Go to a pastor's conference and listen to conversation for a while. People are always talking about how big their church is or how much they have been growing. It is probably true that few pastors want to be the pastor at a small church that never seems to grow. Small church pastors often ridicule large churches suggesting that there may be a lot of people, but they probably aren't growing "deep" in their relationship with Christ. Small churches are better at discipling people. The large churches are not often concerned about the small churches, but when pastors in those churches do comment they might suggest that small churches aren't serious about reaching people with the gospel and fulfilling the mission of the church.
Reality is very different from these short sighted comments. My Grandpa pastored several small churches when I was growing up. One church in particular comes to mind. Attendance was probably around 30 - 40 people on a Sunday and they were almost all gray hairs. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and attended that church regularly. I was the youth group! I attended adult Sunday School classes and even played the organ for the prelude on occasion. I didn't have a group of "church friends." I probably grew more in those Sunday School classes than at any other time in my life. I also attended a medium sized church with small but separate middle school and high school programs. I had very good friends at that church who were a huge part of my life at the time. Growing up I benefitted from several churches of different sizes.
Later, as youth pastor I led combined and separate groups and found that they required very different approaches, but both yielded fruit in the lives of those students.
Nine months ago I left a large church that was about 1,200 on a weekend and took the Lead Pastor position at a church that was about 130. It has grown to about 200. Both churches have issues that are difficult and both churches have very different strengths. Andy was flat out wrong.
My daughter grew up at a large church and she now has some struggles with the size of the youth group at the church where we currently serve. In some ways, I wonder if growing up in the larger church context has hurt her. However, we have kids in this current youth group that have the option to go to a much larger youth group and instead choose to attend the small church youth group...of their own volition. They also like the smaller group where they know everyone.
Andy should have known better than to make those comments. He clearly planned them (they were part of the power point). However, we should extend grace to Andy. I've said things I later regretted as well. If you are a public speaker you will at some point lose your mind and say something in poor taste. He has apologized and we should grant forgiveness.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.