The Challenge of Consistency

I tend to agree with the notion of there being a difference between small church and big church.  A small church, perhaps under 100 people, will tend to have strengths that can become weaknesses in a larger church, perhaps over 200 people.  For instance, in a small church, low standards of music and preaching will be smiled at since everyone knows the individual who is “trying their best.”  But once that church grows through the transitional stage and becomes bigger, such low standards become more counter productive.  Visitors (and there will probably be more now) don’t know the individual up front and the whole dynamic doesn’t work quite so well.  While fellowship is often a strength in smaller churches, it takes deliberate work to achieve that in a larger church.  The emphasis on “up-front” standards inevitably increases as a church grows.

This provides a challenge.  I suppose it is a challenge for all churches of all sizes.  It is especially a challenge for churches with some creative capacity (people, skills, people-hours, etc.).  When you have a guest service of a certain standard, then people will bring guests along.  If that service is done well, then some of those guests might return the next week.  There’s the problem.  If all the effort to be clear and relevant and engaging and effective in the music, the preaching, the presentation, etc., if all that effort is spent on one Sunday, what about the next?

The challenge is consistency.  If your church has a goal of bringing the unchurched to a particular service, then it is worth thinking through whether greater consistency could be achieved in that service 52 times each year.  At that point people would be much more inclined to risk their own relationships and bring people along to the guest events.

There has to be flexibility in this.  Different churches have different capacities for guest events.  The vast majority cannot live up to the standards seen in the small number of “megachurches.”  There also has to be balance in this.  The primary role of the church service may not be evangelism.  Nevertheless, taking into account the specific ethos of a church, it would be worth giving some thought to greater consistency between guest events and normal Sundays.

Proxemic Considerations

Just a little thing, but prompted by a recent experience in a church.  It was a small church, perhaps 30 people packed in to what is essentially just a room.  At the front there is the preaching platform, raised probably six to eight inches off the floor.  Then there’s me – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  Well, not quite, but I felt more than a bit Gulliver when I stood on the platform in that small room.

I felt more than a little silly on the platform.  But it’s what they are used to, I am just a visitor, what difference does it make how I feel?  Actually, that’s not the main issue, although it is a factor.  How does it make the listeners feel to have someone towering over them to preach in a tiny room?  I asked permission to stand on the floor, made a gentle joke at my own expense (to avoid any perceived rudeness toward their church furniture), and proceeded to preach from the floor.

Inasmuch as you can ever evaluate a single element within the complexity of a communication situation – it worked.  There was a relaxed, interactive and open atmosphere.  The sermon was received very well and it seemed to be one of those times when the Word of God is moving freely into the hearts of the listeners.

All that to say, consider the proxemics of preaching now and then (and probably always when in a new environment).  Is the preacher standing above the listeners, below them, or on the same level – each has an effect.  Is the preacher distant or close – each has an effect.  Are there objects between the speaker and the listeners, such as church furniture?  It has an effect.  There is a helpful introduction to this subject in Duane Litfin’s textbook on communication, if you have it sitting on your shelf.

We probably don’t need to worry ourselves too much with the technical terminology of proxemics, kinesthetic factors or even the sociofugal-sociopetal axis!  But we should be more than a little concerned with whether we are communicating in the way we intend.