One of the biggest differences between big and small churches is the kinds of people they attract – and the kinds of problems they tend to bring with them. For instance, big churches tend to attract people who want to be passive, anonymous audience members. That’s not a fault of the big church, it’s just that if you want to remain passive and anonymous, you won’t go to a small church, you’ll find the biggest one you can. But what about control freaks? What kind of church will you most likely be attracted to? You got it. The smaller the better. Small pond, meet the big fish.
Where Control Freaks Come From
Sure, there are passive audience members in small churches, too. The less healthy the church, the more there are. But the passive people in small churches usually don’t start out that way. Unlike big churches, no one goes to a small church to be an anonymous audience member. They became passive after years of hurt, boredom, enabling pastors or lowered expectations. Small churches don’t attract passive people, unhealthy churches create them. And then, they often become your biggest control freaks. No participation, but lots of opinions.
Pastors of healthy big churches are aware of that pull towards passivity and anonymity. That’s one of the reasons they work so hard at small groups. As small church pastors, we need to be aware of the opposite problem. Including the fact that, sometimes the biggest control freak in our church is looking at us in the mirror.
So how does a small church pastor deal with control freaks? Here are eight principles that have helped our church get past those petty squabbles:
1. Don’t Try to Out-Control Them
Trying to control a control freak is like fighting over the steering wheel in a moving car. No one wins and everyone gets hurt. Including the innocent passengers.
2. Don’t Use the Position of Pastor to Shut People Down
“Because I’m the pastor!” is one of the worst things you can ever say. By the time you feel the need to say it, you’ve already lost more than you realize. Saying it may make you feel better. It may even help you reach an immediate goal. But it will be a big step away from long-term goals. Battle won, war lost.
3. Don’t Move Too Fast
Pastors need to earn the right to be heard. The smaller the church, the more listening matters. Take the time to understand the complex inter-weaving of a small church’s relationships, culture and history.
4. Don’t Move Too Slow
There’s a window of opportunity in every leadership situation. Move too early and they’re not ready. Move too late and you’ve lost momentum.
This is why knowing the church’s relationships, culture and history is so important. It gives us the information we need to get the timing right.