The Case for Small

    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.

    Margaret Mead

    That quote has stuck with me for decades.

    I don’t make an effort to not follow CCM, Christian magazines, and podcasts; it’s just that they don’t interest me. So, I’m not sure how I came upon the “backlash” against Nicky Shearer and Elevation church at large. Possibly Twitter?

    If you are aware of this, I’d say watch the entire podcast for full context. Especially if you are forming opinions.

    The gist of the backlash is that Elevation avoids using words like “resurrection,” “Calvary” or the “blood of Jesus” on their Easter invites.

    While that does seem clickbaity and easy enough to form a negative opinion, I think it’s just part of a larger problem. Sure, there are theological issues but I think theological issues are the result of larger issues. So I’m more interested in the root cause.

    I have a working theory that things deteriorate as they get bigger. And if you haven’t guessed, this “inclusive language” was not birthed from bad theology; rather it birthed from big church.

    Surely there are small churches with bad theology. I’m certainly not making that case.

    Christmas Parties

    My first job was at a small company, around 25 people. The CEO and the COO founded the company and their wives had various roles in the company as well. Christmas time the CEO would walk around and personally hand out an invite to the Annual Christmas Party.

    This small company competed with the big players in the market. We were a pain. So, a few Christmas parties later, one of the big companies bought us up. We were no longer a 25 person company taking on giants. We were part of the giant.

    The first Christmas post buyout, there was an email sent to all employees and we were invited to the Annual Holiday Party. The giant now had policies and memos and code of conduct and branding and HR and lawyers and old lawsuits and complications that big companies have.

    Small companies and teams are scrappy and they focus on building great things. The theology of the company changed.

    Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson wrote one of my favourite books – ReWork. They are the founders of 37 Signals which is responsible for Basecamp. They talk about not wanting to grow too big. Being content. But most importantly that with growth comes distractions.

    All they wanted to do was to build a stellar project management system. As a small team of 16 people, every day they got to work on their passion. If they went public then their time and efforts would shift, their theology would change, to now make stockholders happy. Board meetings, EBITDA, HR, PR, and all of that.

    Gone are the days where they woke up and went and did the original thing they loved.

    In a more recent podcast they talk about questioning growth. After a certain period, they asked them selves if they should grow Basecamp. And why should they grow Basecamp – their main product.

    They decided to grow Basecamp at the end, but they shut down other products. So while they did invest in growth, it was net 0 as far as resources and spend. They simply moved resources to focus on Basecamp.

    Do You Think 100% Efficiency is Good?

    Tom DeMarco has an excellent book “Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency“. He talks about a scenario of how an efficiency consultant reviewed an executive assistant. They found that this person was booked only 40% of their time.

    This mean, there was a 60% of waste. Nothing was getting done. So the thinking was that if more executives were assigned to this assistant, you could get to 100% efficiency.

    However, should anything change and one of the executives had something urgent came up, this assistant would be busy. The flip side of efficiency is availability. If you are 100% efficient, you are 0% available.

    The flip side of efficiency is availability. If you are 100% efficient, you are 0% available.

    Tom DeMarco

    Efficiencies & analysis are all big company mindsets. Let’s squeeze every last drop. Small companies also squeeze but everyone is a little more aware of their coworkers or employees’ bandwidth.

    Even churches understand the value of of small teams. Growth comes in small groups. This is why every church has small groups ministries. The most meaningful & life-changing impact happens at home groups. Especially at large churches.

    My Friends Were Laid Off

    Remember that first company I worked at? I moved on to a startup soon after the buyout. My colleagues and friends stayed on. A few years later, almost everyone was laid off.

    The giant had to be sustained. It had much higher overhead, required more profits, sales, and such in order for it to be viable. The giant had it’s vision on all of that rather than the founders’ vision of building a great product. Stockholders were grumbling, board members were threatening. CEOs and leadership was trying to make them happy. Their theology was forced into a change.

    In the early days, before this company was sold out, there was a recession. The CEO called all 18 – 20 of us to the cafe and let us know that times were tough. With that, he boldly said that he will not let anyone go because of the economy. He would personally invest and fight as long as he could to see the people and the company through. This was barring any performance issues.

    What a difference from a small group to a big company.

    Could you imagine the CEO of a public company saying this? Board members, stockholders, the news, would be all over him. Forcing him into the watered down theology. And when it’s watered down, it quickly evaporates.

    The company eventually shut down.

    Back to the podcast with Nicky Shearer from Elevation. With the immense growth and responsibilities, leadership are (highly likely) spending a majority of their time on “the business“. Pay checks for a large number of employees have to be made. Overhead. Office space, rent, water, electricity and more have to be paid. And that easily is around $30 million dollars a year.

    With those bills looming – not counting ministries and liabilities, it’s not possible that pastors and leadership are focused on their true, original calling. There’s growth to be made, there’s bills to be paid, there are overseers and board members whispering profits and losses.

    Gone are the Christmas parties. With the giant, there are new people to appease. Social media trolls to be wary of, news agencies and PR agencies, and brands to protect. There is no more “resurrection” or “Calvary”.

    Giants are unable to do the things they want to do. But can’t. Their hands are forced. There’s now memos and policies.

    The theology was forced into a change.

    As mentioned, this is not bashing on Elevation. It’s a personal view on all things big. They get watered down. Stay small. Stay fiery and scrappy. I personally did not like the book Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, but mega churches appear to contradict the theme in this book. And mega anything.

    In fact, I’m not even focusing on the “Oh my gosh! What did Nicky Shearer say”. My thoughts on this is that her role should not even exist. It’s too big. It’s unnecessary. Just another cog in the giant wheel in a machine.

    The more we hire, the more policies grow. It gets too big to manage and every manager has a vision. Then the politics enter. Sure you can find this even in a 5 personnel church but it’s easier to course correct.

    Big government, big corporations, big groups, and big other things have their advantages. But with the giant, comes corruption, lack of oversight, and most importantly watered down founding principles.

    In closing, I was always part of small churches. Except for one dreadful year at a mega church. In the smaller churches, I saw the pastor sweat from feeding the poor. I can go to a church like that. Again, not making a case for the character of mega church pastors, but that small group connection.

    Bring back Christmas parties and resurrection Sundays. Mega church is not for me. Mega church is okay for a season. My hope and prayer is that there would be a growth in smaller churches and the era and business of mega churches goes the way of the dodo.

    Posted by Conrad Abraham

    Hey there. I’m Conrad from Atlanta, Ga. I’ve a passion for worship, In fact, I’ve been worshiping before it was official – or before I accepted Jesus as the one true God and as my saviour.

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