5 More Principles Small Churches Can Learn from Megachurches

Big 200cNo one in ministry can afford the sin of arrogance.

We miss out on too much when we think our way is the only way to do ministry, or that we can’t learn from others who do ministry differently than we do.

That’s certainly true for pastors of Small Churches. While Small Church ministry is unlike big and megachurch ministry in many aspects, there’s a lot that we can learn from each other.

Today we’ll look at a new list of 5 principles that Small Churches can learn from megachurches. It’s a sequel to a previous post I wrote on the same subject. Some of today’s principles are adapted from Andy Stanley’s recent book, Deep & Wide.

As a reminder that the learning is not a one way street, you might also want to check out a previous post I wrote, entitled 5 Principles Megachurches Can Learn From Small Churches.

Here’s the original list from my first post on this subject. (They are in no particular order).

My original 5 Principles Small Churches Can Learn From Megachurches

  1. Clarity of Purpose
  2. Consistency
  3. Planning
  4. Accountability Systems
  5. Training & Delegation

Here are the next 5: 


1. Flatten the On-Ramp

Recently I read some comments on a blog (not mine) in which a Small Church pastor bragged that his church made people sit on uncomfortable metal folding chairs, served crappy coffee, had no air conditioning, etc. Why? Because the Gospel is offensive, he said.

OK… but none of those things are the Gospel. They’re just a very bumpy and unnecessarily uncomfortable on-ramp to the Gospel. And only a handful of arrogant, masochistic church-goers are willing to pay the toll.

As Andy Stanley wisely says, he doesn’t worry about offending people with the Gospel. But let’s not offend them before they get to the Gospel. He wants them to stay long enough to be offended by the right things.

Most Small Churches need to do this better. Our on-ramps (my term, not Stanley’s) are usually harder than they need to be. I’m not talking about being perfect. Just removing offense. Keep the place clean and well-lit. Start on time. Be friendly. Adapt to the culture of the neighborhood, like missionaries do (and like the Apostle Paul did). Be friendly.

In case you’re worried that this might mean making your church feel generic and bland, I’ve learned something about this from another megachurch pastor. While talking with a group of pastors from a charismatic denomination, Rick Warren told the group, if your church has a distinctive way of worship (in their case, raising hands in worship, speaking in tongues, etc.), you don’t need to stop worshiping that way. Just explain it for your guests.

Be unique. Stay true to yourself. Just ease the on-ramp for guests.


2. Be Intentional About Your Template

Every church has “our way of doing things”. When was the last time you asked yourself “why is this our way of doing things?” If the answer is “because we’ve always done it this way”, that’s a problem.

Megachurches are constantly aware of why they do what they do. They have a standard format for most of their services, and it isn’t accidental. There’s a reason they find a template and stick with it. It fits their mission.

Yes, the order of service template for some megachurches may feel too clinical or even manipulative to people who are used to Small Church worship. But I’m not saying we need to adapt to their template. We just need to know the reason for ours, then stick with it until there’s a reason to change it.

For instance, my church has a template we use, with a couple variables, given the nature of the service that day. It usually goes like this:

  • Songs
  • Announcements
  • Coffee & Conversation
  • Offering
  • Message
  • Closer

That works for our mission and for the people we’re trying to reach.

Within that template we can shift things around a bit. Sometimes we’ll drop the coffee break, other times we’ll do songs on both sides of it. But when we change that template drastically, we let people know what we’re doing and why.

Just a few miles down the highway from our church, Convergence Church has a service order template that’s inside-out to ours. They meet in a theater, not a church building, and this is their usual order:

  • Coffee & Conversation (they call it “Third Place”)
  • Announcements
  • Message
  • Songs
  • There’s an offering box in the hallway as you leave

That works for their mission and the people they’re trying to reach.

Discover what works for your mission and the people you’re trying to reach. Then do it until it stops working. If you change it, do it intentionally and with an explanation.  People don’t mind change, but they don’t want to be surprised.


3. Try to See Your Building the Way a Guest Sees It

Recently, I visited a former church staff member on a weekday at his new church. It’s not mega, but it’s much bigger than mine. The moment I walked in, I was impressed. I immediately knew where I was and where I was supposed to go.

Every corner, every hallway and every room had obvious signage. If I had come on a Sunday with kids in tow, I would not have had to ask anyone where to take them. Or where the restrooms were. (Although I suspect they have knowledgeable greeters to do that as well.)

I know what you’re thinking – your church can’t afford that. But you can.

Most of the signs were printed on standard sized paper on their copy machine. They had been nicely designed so there was a noticeable theme for all of them, but the total cost of dozens of signs throughout the building would have been no more than $10 in paper and toner. A Small Church would need fewer signs, which would cost even less – even if you don’t own a copier and have to go to the local copy shop for printing.

I learned from my trip to that church that my church doesn’t do signage as well as we should. We’ll be changing that soon.


4. Change Your Methods, not Your Theology

Too many pastors aren’t willing to change their methods because they’re afraid that updating the music or replacing pews with chairs is the first step on a slippery slope towards a wholesale slide into secularism. Or, at minimum, it will send a message that we’re watering down the Gospel. Usually they can find a church nearby that seems to have done that, to back up their fears.

I haven’t found that churches which update their methods are more susceptible to betraying their theology. Quite the opposite. Churches that refuse to budge on methods usually betray more sinful attitudes than those that are willing to adjust. But the sins they commit (legalism, judgmentalism, gossip, gluttony, etc.) are excused, while the sins (or perceived sins) of others are condemned.

Churches that have the humility to admit they don’t know everything, and are willing to adapt to make the Gospel more accessible (see Point 1, above) usually hold more firmly to the things that do matter in the long run.


5. Assume Biblical Ignorance

Megachurches do this well. They avoid using phrases like “Of course, we all know the story of…” and “Remember what we said about that passage last month?” because phrases like that make a visitor feel like an outsider, not a guest.

People want to know about the bible. And they appreciate churches that teach it seriously. But we need to take them there by baby-steps.

But it’s also important not to talk down to them. So we also need to avoid phrases like “if you’re not a Christian…”, etc.

Here are some principles my church has learned from megachurches to help people with those “bible baby-steps”.

  • Make handout Bibles available and accessible (as little as $2.50 each)
  • Cite the page number of your text in the handout bible
  • Explain the context of the passage
  • Stick with a single passage instead of jumping around
  • Treat bible characters like the real people they were, not like marble statues
  • Don’t use “insider” language
  • Connect bible teaching to real-world issues


Being a Small Church doesn’t mean being stuck. And it definitely doesn’t mean that we can’t constantly learn and grow. These principles don’t cost a lot of time or money. They take the humility to keep learning, and a commitment to change when necessary.

There’s nothing in this list that a Small Church can’t do well. But some of us may need to lay our pride aside to get the job done. We all have something we can learn from others.


So what do you think? Has your Small Church learned principles from megachurches that you can share with us?

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(Dream Big photo from Stefan Cloo • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

5 thoughts on “5 More Principles Small Churches Can Learn from Megachurches”

  1. For sure, I am with what is written in this article. I received Jesus Christ in a Church plant long ago. I had no idea what a church plant was and I really didn’t care. All I know is that I was invited by a friend and after a few weeks I received Jesus Christ. I was 32 years old. I did not know such words as sanctification, righteousness, and benediction. I moved to another state and became involved in a church that was around for years, that was losing people and growing smaller and smaller. I was part of the change. I became a board member and teacher. As a leadership team we tried to become culturally relevant without changing the message, but the problem was ” small groups” of people who were not willing to change. My next stop was a large growing church which pays attention to the Kairos time. They are now a multi ethnic, multi cultural, all generational,, missional within the U.S.A. and other countries. What was the most difficult for me personally? The church that was growing smaller and smaller, which fought change within every change we tried to make. My personal opinion, this is why church plants must exist today. It is about our relationship with Jesus Christ, coming together in community and reaching others with the gospel. Jesus uses the small, the mid size, the mega, the coffee house, the street, and the simple church, all in community. As for me, I am setting out to plant a church in a southern state with the Foursquare Church. I realize that I can learn from many, and that I am only one person, and God desires to use all of us as his chosen vessels.

  2. Your welcome Karl. I have also traveled to other countries which automatically makes me mission minded in the U.S.A. My mind automatically thinks first and foremost as go and make disciples. When God called me to my “own” country it required me to look at our culture. This was most difficult for me, to stop my travels and commit to “us” as a nation and reaching “us”. Sounds a little weird, but my true experience.

  3. Karl,
    Great post. I appreciate that the suggestions were applicable to the small church and didn’t include suggestions like “total building makeover…”
    I appreciate that you think, act, talk and advise like a small church pastor. You even pre-empted would be arguments about signage. Loved it. Who could argue about computer print out signs? 🙂
    I also appreciate that you included a comment about the culture you FIND YOURSELF in. Most of what is given as advice, in regards to being “relevent” to our culture – is in regards to a culture that is ‘big city’ or ‘suburbia’. For me, the nearest Starbucks is over an hour away, if that gives any indication. Most of what I hear is not applicable to Appalachian Mountain Culture. Coming here is like stepping back in time (which is why my husband and I love it) They still listen to Lum and Abner here!
    Case in point: Had a pastor on FB tell me that the reason our church wasn’t growing was because we sing hymns. Our template of worship is to sing a hymn, an older chorus and several newer songs…we try to be as well rounded as possible. The last Sunday of every month is “hymn” Sunday where we sing nothing but hymns! Some new ones, like Chris Tomlin’s Amazing Grace and that new one that is SO good, In Christ Alone (The Solid Rock). Most times, we sing out of the book, acapella – because we don’t have musicians. One Sunday, we had a visitor, young guy in his early 20’s. I thought, “Oh no, on hymn Sunday no less.” But from the moment we sang our first hymn to well into the preaching, this young man was in tears. Towards the end of the service our deacon approached him to see if he needed prayer or would like to go up to the altar..etc..but he declined. He said the songs awoke in him memories of going to a little country church when he was a kid with his grandma. It really touched him. Ha! That’ll teach me…and that pastor who thought he knew so much.
    Culture isn’t about what’s trendy…it’s about where you are…and that’s different for each of us.

    1. Thanks Cindy.

      Yeah, I “think, act, talk and advise like a small church pastor” because I am one. That’s why I launched this site and am grateful for other sites like it, and for FB pages like yours. We need to be sharing ideas with each other because we’re the only ones who understand what it’s like to be in our shoes.

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