When I think of Canada, I often think of big – big landscapes, big mountains, big open spaces. But Canada is also small – small populations (relatively speaking on a global scale), small towns, small beauty.
I’ve been thinking more and more about small lately. I’ve always liked a small party better than a large one – a party where one conversation involved everyone around a shared dinner table. A party small enough where the introverts (not just the extroverts) actually share a funny anecdote from their week.
I’ve felt more at home in small churches. Gradually through my life the churches I’ve attended have been smaller and smaller, I grew up in a church that saw huge growth, it was about 800 people on any given Sunday by the time I was in high school. The church I attended when I went off to college was closer to 300. During grad school the church I chose was about 150 – then I attended a church plant with my husband that was just about 100 people.
Little did I know that this trajectory of small would lead me to the current community that I call home. My husband and I moved to Saskatoon 5 years ago and started to hang around with a church planter. There were others in the informal circle of dreams for planting a new worshiping community, but it was the pastor and his wife (Darryl and Vonda), my husband, Tim, and I that sat down over meals and dreamed about a new church family in our neighbourhood. We launched this worship gathering in a rented space 5 years ago this Christmas (side note – don’t launch a church at Christmas – Advent was a symbolic new beginning and a very busy season to start something new!) We gathered, and new people joined us for a service or two, and some even stuck around. As life shifted for various people, some moved on. Most moved to churches that were a better fit for their whole family. Through the ebb and flow of the last 5 years, the stability has been the three families – the core of the church plant was small and felt more like family than anything else. Last year, several families moved from the city, and a few new families joined our gathering. This year there has been a feeling of momentum, despite saying good-bye to some families.
This month we said good-bye to the couple that has been in our worship gatherings from that first Sunday. The couple is now a trio with their first child joining the family last fall. Somehow this goodbye feels different. We say good-bye, as they move back to the city from which they came, after seven years in Saskatoon. We say good-bye to people who dreamed and risked and experimented with us. A piece of the vision moves away with them, and it feels significant.
Small. The intimacy of small brings with is a precarity, not knowing when a shift in circumstances can disrupt the group that has gathered. I think our worshiping community has wrestled (individually, if not formally as a group) with any illusions that our gathering was going to explode with new attenders. Especially as we honed in on the call to this particular neighbourhood, and to particular people who are seeking a place to find a spiritual family. That call focuses our attention on the small and the particular.
But, even yet, I have questions. When big is still billed as success, why does small feel so safe? Why is big seen as the goal, when that would lead to the need to manufacture systems of intimacy called “small groups.” Small – it seems is just about right.
In listening to a recent podcast episode where Elle talked with James Kingsley and Steve MacDouell, I was reminded again that the intimacy and slower pace of our worship gathering has left room for connection in the neighbourhood that has been growing over the last five years. The margins of life seem narrow these days when there are tiny humans (age 3 & 1) demanding all my attention at any given moment, but if we had a larger church full of programs running on a regular basis, even more of my time would be diverted to life within the church, instead of facing out toward the neighbourhood.
My friend, who we are bidding farewell, is a microbiologist, her scientific expertise is the small – but small things can have a big impact. She studies organisms that we know about, not because we can see them, but because we can see the impact when the spread – E. Coli, salmonella – these are the things I am glad someone is observing and figuring out how they grow and spread.
I do hope that our worship gathering grows, because I know there are many people who long for the intimacy of our worshiping community. But I kinda hope it spreads more like an epidemic – with the power of lots of small things – rather than by building something big.