DARE Women's Conference 2009
Women and the Church

The Rabbit and the Elephant: Why Small is the New Big for Today's Church

Rabbit Imagine you take two elephants. For our purposes, they are a male and a female. You put them in your garage (hopefully, it's big enough!). You give them plenty to eat and drink and you shut the door on them. Three years later, you come back and open the door. What comes out?

Three elephants, that's right! Mum and Dad elephant and one baby!

Now instead of two elephants, let's pretend you put two rabbits in the garage. At the end of three years, when you open the door, you had better run for your life, because millions of rabbits will explode out of that door.

The point? Something that is large and complex is hard to reproduce. Something that is small and simple multiplies easily. Elephants take a long time to reach maturity and have long gestation period. It takes time to produce a single elephant. Rabbits, on the other hand, are extremely fertile all the time. They reach maturity in four to six months, and their gestation period is a mere thirty days. Hence the expression "breed like rabbits."

So begins a new book The Rabbit and the Elephant by Tony and Felicity Dale and George Barna on why small is the new big for today's church.

God's original mandate to us was to "be fruitful and multiply (Gen.1:26)." Reproduction is God's will for all of us. Disciples need to reproduce more disciples, leaders need to reproduce more leaders, ministries need to reproduce more ministries, and churches need to reproduce more churches. No doubt, smaller (more simple and less complex) things reproduce far easier. That's why large mega-churches sometimes don't grow (proportionally) as fast as smaller churches. That's why small groups are an essential part of any church, and especially as a church gets larger, because they enable unlimited reproduction. The first church at Jerusalem was a large church with over 3000 people from the first day but they multiplied rapidly through a network of smaller groups meeting in homes throughout the city (see Acts 2). Maybe God is wanting to so something similar in our generation ... in every town and city across the face of the earth.  

Let's go forth and multiply ...

Comments

Hi Mark, sounds an interesting book. The title jumps at you straight away.

Have to say growing up in a small-ish church (300-500 people) and then getting involved in a church plant (about 100-150 people), followed by involvement in a larger church of 5,000 people and finally these last 3 years at CityLife (8,000+ people, multi-site), that I've got my doubts about the mega-church ministry model. Just too easy to be a pew-warmer and people getting comfortable in cliques, not that that doesn't happen in the smaller church. Undoubtedly the outputs (music, newsletters, sermons, conferences) are of a much better quality in the mega-church scenario but only make for entertainment rather than activity.

I'm not having a go at CityLife...it's as good as it can get and the Lord's given the growth...(we definitely love it here)...and I'm glad for the emphasis on small groups and multi-site congregations.

Incidentally, I found it a wonderful practice when I first came to CityLife that at greeting time, we get people to chat to those around them and invariably meeting someone new in the congregation.

I have to say that I love the model that CityLife follows. Having been at a 2500 member congregation, then spending 14 years at a 200-300 member congregation that never grew beyond that, and then coming to CityLife I can see the prosperity at CityLife.......both in spiritual growth and in resources. It is always the choice of the person as to whether they connect with the church and just attend or grow their connection deeper by getting involved. I saw that even at the small church. And in fact, the members that did get involved were often exhausted for having to carry the burden of running all the programs and events and services.

CityLife provides the opportunity for a person to receive more education (theologically and in terms of leadership abilities) and to be involved in so many different areas (no matter what your gifts, talents, interests)....and the more a person does that the more they will meet people in those areas and feel more intimately connected.

It's always a choice.......

Having lived in a town with a population of 4500 - and growing up in their thriving Catholic community - it was definitely a culture shock moving to the anonymity of the suburbs and the hugeness of CityLife was intimidating, to say the least. But I got to meet people, they were friendly and caring - if anything I think the sheer size of the crowd means that we are less judgmental towards visitors than what might occur when a person visits a small church...

Anyway, I joined a life group and started volunteering and have met so many people through that process. Going to lifetrax and just starting out helping at youth nights were a great way to connect.

Taking the initiative to join in and participate is the key. And I think that applies to any area in life. I don't think it has to do with the size of the community. While living in rural Australia meant close-knit community seemed easier to maintain - everyone knew everyone else's business - even then the people who really connect with community / church are those who take the step to join in.

Different styles of church for different styles of Christian, I suppose! :-)

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