Avoiding the Comparison Trap

It is hard to lead a small church or a young church. Perhaps it is even more challenging today than it once was. Church planters and small church pastors have a tall order—I know from personal experience. I have helped corral an army of tireless volunteers to haul chairs in and out every week. It […]

It is hard to lead a small church or a young church. Perhaps it is even more challenging today than it once was. Church planters and small church pastors have a tall order—I know from personal experience.

I have helped corral an army of tireless volunteers to haul chairs in and out every week. It wears you down. I have preached to just a few people scattered throughout the room. It is discouraging. I have wondered if people would come back again in the fall. Or ever. I have wondered how my heart—or the budget—would recover when that core family left. The fears and challenges are real.

But the biggest threat to small churches isn’t money, size or a building. It lurks undetected. It can slowly drain the life from pastors and turn their hearts into cement. It’s comparison.

Comparison is deadly. It squelches creativity and contentment. To top things off, we no longer just compare ourselves to the church across town but to the array of churches we see online. When you compare yourself to the preacher on Instagram, the church building that “other church” was given or the kids program families are leaving your church to be part of, a piece of you dies.

Comparison is real and it’s human, but it’s destructive. Satan comes to steal, kill, destroy, distract, discourage—all words of death. In the face of comparison, ask these questions and answer honestly.

WHO ARE YOU COMPARING YOURSELF TO?

Social media is a hotbed for jealousy and anxiety. What is especially destructive is comparing yourself to what researchers call your “reference group.” These are folks who seem like you, so it seems natural to want what they have.

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For example, a small church leader may not struggle with comparing their church to a megachurch, but they secretly seethe with envy when another small church that appears to be similar seems far better. If that is true for you, you may need to stop following them on social media or peeking at their livestream. Learn from anyone you can, but don’t compare yourself.

WHAT IS YOUR CHURCH UNIQUELY DESIGNED FOR?

When I coach pastors, hear stories or visit gatherings, I always see a spark—something fresh and unique I have never quite seen before. It may take some chipping away, but underneath the surface each church has a unique mark.

You are in a unique context. Your people have unique gifts. You ask questions no other church does. In order to see a kingdom movement, each church needs to determine who they are designed to be, and go be that.

HOW CAN YOU EXPERIMENT?

Smaller and younger churches can be more agile. They can start things quickly and adapt to change. They can shift a weekend service into a dialogue in a pinch (or just to try something new). The bar for excellence is usually more realistic, and more leaders can meet that standard.

Yes, leading a small or young church is hard. It is also hard leading a big church—it is just different. Do not believe more money, influence, buildings or people can create the perfect church. There is no such thing. Thank God!

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