I wrote a review of David Gibbons’s book “The Monkey and the Fish” on the BishopBlog, to which I’m a contributor. It’s a book I highly recommend. Not your typical church growth book. He hits some areas that progressive evangelicals will appreciate, and that more traditional evangelicals need to become better attuned to.
Here, I want to comment on a totally minor, almost incidental part of the book.
Gibbons (left) mentions an interesting study. People were shown three pictures: a chicken, a cow, and a bale of hay. Which two pictures were more alike?
American audiences chose the chicken and cow. But Asian audiences chose the cow and hay. Why? Because they looked for relationship. Cows eat hay. They go together.
Americans value size and categories, so the chicken and cow ended up together. They have no relationship. They just fit the same category–a farm animal.
Now let me ask: Which of the following are more alike:
- A church of 2000 people.
- A church of 3000 people.
- A church of 150 people.
Most of us would say the two larger churches are more alike. But in reality, the church of 3000 and the church of 150 may be more alike–in philosophy of ministry, in setting, in constituency. Even in organizational structure, perhaps.
Our tendency, then, is to assume that the church of 150 will eventually become–or should become–a church of 3000. Because we value size–attendance. No matter how many disclaimers we throw at it, in the end we value attendance. It’s simply invalid, in a typical American’s eyes, to think that a church of 150 can stay a church of 150, and still be healthy. Sure, that’s still large for churches in most of the rest of the world, and it was large for most of American history. But America defines how to do church, and we’ve decided that in 2009, 150 just doesn’t cut it.
The sad truth is, your big and wealthy church in the suburbs and my small, low-income church in the city may have more in common with each other than with the early church of Acts.