I am a big thinker. Some people assume that because I do church in a small way that I am opposed to big things, and that is vastly untrue. I will not be satisfied until the whole world is changed and you can’t do that in a single church, but you can with many small ones. But the way to effect the global is to start with the microscopic.
Seth Godin boldly declares, “Small is the new big.” Contrary to the way we usually think, the way to big is really to go small. Of course this is counter intuitive. So often we try to make something grow bigger and end up doing less than we could. Jesus used the parable of leaven to show the effect of a small thing on a massive scale. He also often referred to the smallest known seed as having huge potential for earth shaking results (Matt. 17:20).
In his hugely successful book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things can make a Big Difference, Malcom Gladwell identifies three characteristics necessary for an epidemic-type spread of a trend, idea or even a virus itself: “one, contagiousness; two, the fact that little causes can have big effects; and three, that change happens not gradually but at one dramatic moment” (he calls that moment the “tipping point”). He devotes an entire section of his book to “the law of the few,” in which he cites example after example of how huge epidemic-type movements began with very few people. In fact, that is only how they begin.
Not every small thing is powerful. It matters what is within the small package. A grain of sand and a grain of wheat are both small. One has the God-given potential to eventually feed the hungry world. The other can be the catalyst to create a blister or a pearl—but only one.
Before we can change the world we must be able to change a single life. But we must change a life in such a way that the same life is able to do it all over again with someone else. That is best done in small ways that eventually affect the global. When you are looking to spread an idea virus by coordinating larger groups to do so, the whole process breaks down. But if it is as simple and small as one life to another, the virus can spread easily and each person carries the contagion.
A tiny microscopic virus is bringing an entire continent made up of dozens of nations to its knees in Africa—AIDS. This virus is passed on person to person in a very predictable manner but it spreads almost unhindered. It spreads because those infected have an internal motivation to continue doing what spreads the virus. In combating the virus we are not just trying to figure out a way to stop the virus itself but to stop the behaviors that spread it, and that is the hardest part, because it is against the natural drive in the people.
Why is small such a big deal? Small does not cost at all. Small is easy to reproduce. Small is more easily changed and exchanged. Small is mobile. Small is harder to stop. Small is intimate. Small is simple. Small infiltrates easier. Small is something people think they can do. Big does not do any of these things. We can change the world more quickly by becoming much smaller in our strategy.
If I can be vulnerable for a moment I want to share with you my greatest phobia. Until now, this was a secret known only to my wife and three kids (and boy do they have fun with it), but it is time for full disclosure. I am not afraid of large dogs, strange people or standing in high places. I have no problem in the dark or an enclosed place. I have a phobia about bugs. There, I said it. An individual bug doesn’t really bother me. I am glad to remove a spider found in the bathroom by one of my daughters without hesitation. It is when bugs swarm that I am creeped out. This has always been my greatest nightmare. Even as I write this and imagine it in my mind I feel shivers on the back of my neck. The feeling of ants all over my legs is the worst! I hate it.
The truth is we should all be a little freaked by swarms of insects; they are so overwhelming that there is almost no defense. You can have a double barrel shotgun and an automatic machine gun at the same time and you are absolutely defenseless against a swarm of killer bees. You can shoot at the swarm, and you may even hit a couple of the bees, but the swarm doesn’t even need to duck when you shoot. It will come without any slowing or adjustment after you have fired all rounds. And that is also why a decentralized movement can literally be unstoppable.
While for years now the church has invested in growing larger, the new missional movement is trying to get smaller in its focus so that it can get bigger in its impact.
Small is the new big.
From Church 3.0: Upgrades for the Future of the Church.