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).
- Clarity of Purpose
- Accountability Systems
- 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:
- Coffee & Conversation
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”)
- 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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