Rev. Chip Hammond
When I was a staff member of Campus Life/Youth For Christ, we used to do an activity for the kids called "The Bigger and Better Hunt." This was sort of like a scavenger hunt, but the participants had to obtain or borrow the biggest thing they could find. The one with the biggest object won. It was always a fun time.
I could never have imagined, though, that this activity would be the virtual symbol for life twenty years later. If there is one thing we as a society all seem to be certain of today, it is the "fact" that bigger is better.
When I was a boy growing up, Jones' Hardward was where everyone in town went for anything that had to do with wood, tools, nuts or bolts. That hardware store has been owned by successive generations of the Jones family for nearly a century. It was crammed full of stuff, but Rob Jones (old Mr. Jones' son) knew right where everything was. And even though on a Saturday the store would be packed like a sardine can, Rob would deal with everyone like he was the only one in the store. He knew all of his customers by name, and would ask about their families (sometimes to the frustration of the other customers!).
Jones' Hardware is still there, but I can't help but wonder for how much longer. You see, today we have Lowes and Home Depot. If you've ever been to one of these "superstores," you know you can spend a lot of time trying to locate someone to help you, and it's amazing if you actually find someone who knows what they're talking about. But those stores are big. Bigger is better, or at least cheaper, and in today's world, cheaper also seems to be what matters.
Hardware is not the only victim of the bigger and better hunt. My brother works for a nationally known insurance company. It used to be a mutual company, where the goal of the company was to care for its customers. A few years ago the company went public. Now the goal is to make an enormous profit for shareholders, and customer care is a secondary consideration. But it certainly is bigger now. And by today's logic, that must mean it's better.
A dozen years ago I used to deal with a little auto repair shop in Leesburg, The owner knew me by name, and we would bump into each other in town sometimes and chat. He would call me when the work was done. Often I'd tell him I couldn't get there until 6:00. He told me they closed at 4:00, but to come by, get the car, and we could settle up later. Then commercial real estate exploded. The business moved. And it got bigger. The last time I dealt with that company (and I do mean the last time), "someone" from the shop called and told me the car would be done. I told him I'd get there by 6:00. He told me they closed at 4:00. I told him, "No problem, I'll come by and pick up the car after hours and settle up later." He told me that if I did, they'd report the car stolen, and I would be arrested. This must be better, because it's the result of being bigger.
Now, call me unprogressive, but I'm beginning to become suspicious. Bigger seems to be just that - bigger. It's not necessarily better. I don't think that the service I get at hardware stores is better than I grew up with. And businesses that I patrnized when they first opened seem to have become less friendly and less interested in my business since they've gotten bigger. Is that better?
When it comes to the Church, the thinking is largely the same. "Bigger is better." All the books tell me so. And it seems that all the Churches have adopted this Wally World vision of Church success.
But increasingly I'm hearing rumblings, like this interesting phone call at the office the other day: a woman called wanting to know if we preached the gospel. She said that she was the member of a local church that used to preach the gospel, but then they embarked on a bigger and better hunt. And they got bigger. "But," she said, "I never hear about Jesus anymore, and my soul is withering" (or words to that effect).
Don't get me wrong. We should be interested in, among other things, the numerical growth of those coming to faith in Christ (see Acts 2:47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1; 11:21; 24; 26; 16:5), but that's not the same as a bigger and better hunt. Today, we have congregations that number in the multiple thousands. You see them on TV, with secular self-help messages cloaked in sanctified lingo. Yet we know from the research of people like George Barna that most of these people do not know basic Christian doctrine, do not seek to live holy lives, and that few "Christians" under the age of 40 tithe in these huge gatherings (perhaps a variation on the "bigger is cheaper, and cheaper is better" theme?). It's not hard to see why. With such masses, how can the shepherds possibly know what is going on in the lives of individual sheep?
I do not believe that the goal of the hardware giants is customer care or satisfaction. It is to make a not-so-small fortune, plain and simple. In the place of actual concern for the customer, they offer huge selection, unbeatable prices, and the ability to return anything without a receipt for a full refund. Is it worth it? I guess it must be. Bigger is better.
I will make an assertion that some will find bold. While in God's providence, it is possible for a Church to become huge, despite the efforts of the elders, such huge congregations should never be the plan and design of men. Prudent spiritual planning should seek to limit the size a Church will ordinarily grow to. (My own bold assertion is not more than 500.) Do we limit the people coming into the kingdom? By no means! We plant more churches! When congregations begin to number in high hundreds or multiple thousands, I can't help but ask what the real motivation is. Is it really the care of souls?
Oh well, just my thoughts. I know I'm hopelessly out of touch with reality. Just look around. Whether the work is selling sandpaper or shepherding souls, every fool knows that bigger is better.