5 Principles Megachurches Can Learn From Small Churches

Small Things square 200cSmall Churches receive a lot from our megachurch friends. We read their books, sing their songs, use their curriculum and attend their seminars. And we’re grateful.

But the benefits don’t have to flow only one way. There are some very important, though less obvious things that megachurches can learn from Small Churches. Not necessarily books and curriculum (although there is this one book I’ve heard about…), but principles.

Healthy Small Churches have characteristics that make them work. It’s not a mistake that over half the believers in the world choose to attend a Small Church. These principles can be a blessing to big churches too. It’s not that they aren’t being done by bigger churches, but they do tend to be more obvious in smaller ones.

As you read them, you’ll notice they tend to have one theme in common. Relationships.


This is a companion piece to 5 Principles Small Churches Can Learn From Megachurches


1. Everyone Matters

The average person can have a greater impact in a Small Church. Your presence matters and your absence is noticed. People recognize your face and know your name – and not just your friends, but the pastor, too.

In a bigger church, a pastor can’t know everyone, or even most people. It’s the price of growth. But we need to be careful, as we grow, not to see people only as members of subsets.

This is where “we need to grow smaller as we’re growing bigger” comes from. Big churches need systems in place, not just to keep the mechanics of the church functioning smoothly, but to let every individual know they matter.

Giving people a sense of personal value isn’t automatic, even in a Small Church. It takes work. But it’s worth it.

 

2. Friends are More Important than Friendliness

Josh Hunt wrote a terrific post entitled People Are Not Looking for a Friendly Church, in which he quotes Rick Warren, who says, “People are not looking for a friendly church; they are looking for friends.”

Josh and Rick are right. It’s nice when a greeter has a friendly smile and when an usher asks your name as they show you to your seat. But I don’t expect those people to think about me after I leave any more than the smiling barista at Starbucks does.

I don’t go to Starbucks for the barista’s friendliness any more than I go to church for the usher’s smile. I go to Starbucks for the coffee, and to church for the worship and teaching. But I hang out in each place because of the friends I meet there.

Friendly churches may be overrated – after all, I can get that at Starbucks. But hanging out is holy.

Hanging out? Really? That’s holy?

Yes it is. In the bible they call it fellowship. But we’ve turned fellowship into something other than what the bible intended, I think. Look it this way. What would most people rather do – go to a “fellowship time” at church, or hang out with their friends?

People don’t usually stay in Small Churches because of the high quality of the preaching, the music, the nursery or the facilities. Megachurches do all of that better. They stay because they can hang out with their friends in a Small Church. We all need to be intentional about fostering friendships, not just friendliness.

 

3. Conversations are More Valuable Than Surveys

Megachurches love surveys. It’s the primary way they monitor the success or failure of their programs.

But Small Churches don’t need to conduct surveys. We can have conversations.

When you’re trying to measure scientifically verifiable data from massive groups of people, surveys are invaluable. They help us look past our own small, prejudicial view of things and give us verifiable, objective results.

But when we’re dealing with people, surveys can give us a false sense of understanding. Knowing how many people have been through a discipleship class is not the same as knowing how much they’ve grown in their faith. That requires a much more personal touch.

In the classic leadership book In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters introduced the world to MBWA – Management By Wandering Around. The concept is simple. In large companies, including large churches, it’s easy to think you know what’s going on because of all the raw data you collect. But you can lose a sense of what’s really happening if you rely too heavily on the numbers. Every leader needs to spend time in the trenches or they lose touch.

In Small Churches, MBWA is just the way things are. There are no layers between the pastor and the people. Surveys aren’t needed because conversations are taking place.

In big groups, conversations can give you a skewed picture of what’s going on, so they need to be supplemented by surveys, and vice versa. But in smaller groups, you can get a large enough sample size through conversations, and have all the info you need.

MBWA isn’t a new concept. It’s the original data collection system. Shakespeare referred to it in Henry V, when he had the king disguise himself to walk among the troops and gauge their mood the night before the Battle of Agincourt. And, long before Shakespeare, Jesus did it with his disciples.

 

4. The People Who Need Connection the Most Won’t Sign Up for Small Groups

Most large churches recognize the need to make relationships more intentional. That a massive worship meeting, while exciting and inspiring, is not enough. So most of them work very hard at developing and promoting small groups.

The problem is that most people feel like they’ve received their weekly spiritual dosage by attending a one hour weekend church service. They don’t see the need or have the time to add another meeting to their schedule. And that’s what many people see a small group as – just another meeting.

No, that’s not a very spiritually mature view of small groups. But aren’t the spiritually immature people the ones who need those groups the most?

In a Small Church, people get the small group experience on Sunday morning – one-stop spiritual shopping. And the friendships that develop there are one reason why Small Churches likely have a higher level of volunteerism and involvement. In a bigger church, the only way to get that much-needed smaller group is to add one more meeting to the calendar. Most people won’t.

So what’s a big church to do?

Clearly, I’m not an expert on running a big church, but it seems to me that it might be helpful to find a way to infuse more one-on-one connection into the main service times. Not just “turn around around and say hi to someone before you’re seated.”

What about these as starter ideas? For bigger and smaller churches.

  • Have a mid-service break every once-in-a-while. Take 5 minutes in the middle of your biggest services for people to grab coffee, chat and get to know the people sitting near them.
  • Assign section hosts. People usually sit at the same place in the same service time. A section host could get to know the 100 or so people in that section and be the “social glue” that recognizes new people, introduces newcomers to regulars and oversees the mid-service break time.
  • Have discussion times after each service for those who want to stick around for a few extra minutes. It’s a lot easier to stay while you’re there, than to come out on another day.

 

5. Stories Matter More Than Numbers

“So, how’s your church doing?” is the #1 question ministers ask each other when we get together.

What’s the #1 answer to that question? “We’re running (insert your Easter Sunday numbers here) in attendance.”

That’s how I used to answer that question. I don’t any more. Attendance alone is not an accurate measure of how my church is doing.

Stories are a far better measure of how a church is doing. How is Jesus affecting the people in your church? How are they responding to the needs of their friends and the community. Are lives being transformed, relationships being healed, families growing stronger, ministry to the community being effective?

Numbers can get in the way. When the church is growing, they can give us a false sense of health and, let’s admit it, ego. When the church is small or shrinking, they can make us doubt our ministry and calling. But attendance statistics are not an accurate measure of how any church is really doing. Stories are.

Stories matter because people matter. From the world’s biggest megachurches to the smallest home churches, let’s get to know people and celebrate their stories.


 Want more? Check out 5 More Principles Small Churches Can Learn from Megachurches


 

So what do you think? What other principles can megachurches can learn from Small Churches?

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(Small Things photo from Michael Boston • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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11 thoughts on “5 Principles Megachurches Can Learn From Small Churches”

  1. Awesome stuff. I have gotten to the point where I am using this site, your book, and everything I glean here as an encouragement along my personal road towards planting a Church in a small town. Which in and of itself is a double whammy of sorts because no one really respects the small church or the small town in the megachurch/church growth circles. I have read so so many things about how God is really only at work in the Cities, and I just find that preposterous. But at the same time, there is something to be learned from those Churches of the “larger market share” that are out there, and I appreciated your work in addressing them.

    The big question that I am attempting to address on my own right now is this:
    How can a a small church value and embrace it’s smallness without giving up on the larger vision of God?

    I read in scripture God speaking about a “great nation”, a “holy people”, a “multitude” and all sorts of other word pictures that clearly say that God has something “big” in mind for the Church, and that he wants “everyone” to be saved…which is the biggest most daunting number of all. So how does a Church that is destined to be small because of cultural and community “smallness”…still grab a hoid of the larger vision of God?

    1. Thanks for the kind compliments. I’m so glad what I’m writing is helping. And I’d love to be kept up to speed on how your church planting is going.

      The best way I know to answer your “big question” about how a Small Church can be small without giving up on God’s bigger vision, is to pull this quote from Chapter 10 of “The Grasshopper Myth”:

      “One of the main complaints about Small Churches is that the only reason they stay small is because they have a small vision. I used to believe that. I don’t anymore.

      …Once I discovered the New Small Church, I started to understand that its vision – and God’s vision for it – happens to be HUGE.

      Here’s how big the vision of the New Small Church is. We are a unique, indispensable part of the work God is doing throughout the entire world. That work is too big to fit inside any building or denomination. It is too big for us to do alone. It is too big for me to grasp, to plan or to stop. It began with Jesus, is sustained by Jesus and won’t be finished until Jesus says it’s finished when he comes back again.

      I don’t know of any bigger vision than that.

      When we concentrate so much of our efforts on growing individual church bodies, are we missing out on the bigger picture – and a bigger vision? Could it be that we have been limiting God’s vision for his church by concentrating so much time, energy and money on trying to grow my church?

      After all, Jesus never commanded us to build the church. He very clearly kept that job for himself when he said, “I will build my church…” And the growth of Jesus’ church, thankfully, is not limited to the growth of the congregation I happen to be pastoring at any given time. Not only that, but since Jesus is in charge of growing his church, if we’re doing the building by our efforts, our ideas and our charisma, maybe we should stop calling it a church at all.

      Only Jesus builds churches.

      So I wonder, could it be that obsessing over the growth of my church is actually a smaller vision than what Jesus had in mind? Is it possible that embracing God’s vision for the entire Church, and accepting my much-needed role pastoring a Small Church within it, may actually be a bigger vision?”

      I hope that helps.

      1. It does make sense, but don’t I have a responsibility also to God for “my” Church? I understand that the vision is bigger than my corner of the world, but aren’t I still in that corner and aren’t there still people in my corner unreached? How do I bridge that gap? How do I see my corner of the world as part of that bigness and not retreat into my smallness as an excuse?

  2. Awesome stuff. I have gotten to the point where I am using this site, your book, and everything I glean here as an encouragement along my personal road towards planting a Church in a small town. Which in and of itself is a double whammy of sorts because no one really respects the small church or the small town in the megachurch/church growth circles. I have read so so many things about how God is really only at work in the Cities, and I just find that preposterous. But at the same time, there is something to be learned from those Churches of the “larger market share” that are out there, and I appreciated your work in addressing them.

    The big question that I am attempting to address on my own right now is this:
    How can a a small church value and embrace it’s smallness without giving up on the larger vision of God?

    I read in scripture God speaking about a “great nation”, a “holy people”, a “multitude” and all sorts of other word pictures that clearly say that God has something “big” in mind for the Church, and that he wants “everyone” to be saved…which is the biggest most daunting number of all. So how does a Church that is destined to be small because of cultural and community “smallness”…still grab a hoid of the larger vision of God?

    1. Thanks for the kind compliments. I’m so glad what I’m writing is helping. And I’d love to be kept up to speed on how your church planting is going.

      The best way I know to answer your “big question” about how a Small Church can be small without giving up on God’s bigger vision, is to pull this quote from Chapter 10 of “The Grasshopper Myth”:

      “One of the main complaints about Small Churches is that the only reason they stay small is because they have a small vision. I used to believe that. I don’t anymore.

      …Once I discovered the New Small Church, I started to understand that its vision – and God’s vision for it – happens to be HUGE.

      Here’s how big the vision of the New Small Church is. We are a unique, indispensable part of the work God is doing throughout the entire world. That work is too big to fit inside any building or denomination. It is too big for us to do alone. It is too big for me to grasp, to plan or to stop. It began with Jesus, is sustained by Jesus and won’t be finished until Jesus says it’s finished when he comes back again.

      I don’t know of any bigger vision than that.

      When we concentrate so much of our efforts on growing individual church bodies, are we missing out on the bigger picture – and a bigger vision? Could it be that we have been limiting God’s vision for his church by concentrating so much time, energy and money on trying to grow my church?

      After all, Jesus never commanded us to build the church. He very clearly kept that job for himself when he said, “I will build my church…” And the growth of Jesus’ church, thankfully, is not limited to the growth of the congregation I happen to be pastoring at any given time. Not only that, but since Jesus is in charge of growing his church, if we’re doing the building by our efforts, our ideas and our charisma, maybe we should stop calling it a church at all.

      Only Jesus builds churches.

      So I wonder, could it be that obsessing over the growth of my church is actually a smaller vision than what Jesus had in mind? Is it possible that embracing God’s vision for the entire Church, and accepting my much-needed role pastoring a Small Church within it, may actually be a bigger vision?”

      I hope that helps.

      1. It does make sense, but don’t I have a responsibility also to God for “my” Church? I understand that the vision is bigger than my corner of the world, but aren’t I still in that corner and aren’t there still people in my corner unreached? How do I bridge that gap? How do I see my corner of the world as part of that bigness and not retreat into my smallness as an excuse?

        1. Keep reaching out. Every church and every believer is commanded to evangelize, no matter what the church’s size.

          But when a church is small it should do evangelism in ways that work for Small Churches. Less program-oriented, and more relationship-oriented.

          I don’t think any church should set out to be small. But when we are small, we should use the advantages of that size. If we reach out, but stay small, that’s OK. Smallness isn’t a goal or a virtue, but neither is bigness.

          If smallness is a church’s reality, we need to use it as an asset instead of pushing for bigness to consider ourselves successful.

  3. I love what this article has to say, a lot of it makes sense…but I am a little unclear about what you mean regarding the small groups ministry aspect. I understand that being a small church there is a natural smallness to what happens on Sunday Mornings, but are you saying that a small Church should not pursue a small groups ministry at all? I personally would have a hard time with that. If it is marketed as another “study” or “teaching” session, I understand maybe not going that route, but for me small groups are more about accountability and getting people stuck to one another so that when a situation arises where they need each other, its natural…its already there. Does that make sense, or am I missing something?

    1. I think small groups are vital for exactly the reasons you outline. The point I was trying to make was that, for spiritually immature people who won’t go to a second church event in any given week, the Small Church gives them a small group experience already – especially in a VERY Small Church.

      A spiritually mature person will realize they need more than a Sunday morning service.

      In our church, we gave up on trying to do a small group “program” because so many people were already getting everything they needed from small groups through our youth, seniors, men’s, women’s, missions teams, etc.

      Megachurches need to be more intentional about small groups because no one gets the small group accountability and fellowship on Sundays. But in a Small Church, many people get that already, so a “small group curriculum” may not be as needed.

      For a little more on this, you may want to check out this post: http://newsmallchurch.com/no-small-group-ministry/

  4. I love what this article has to say, a lot of it makes sense…but I am a little unclear about what you mean regarding the small groups ministry aspect. I understand that being a small church there is a natural smallness to what happens on Sunday Mornings, but are you saying that a small Church should not pursue a small groups ministry at all? I personally would have a hard time with that. If it is marketed as another “study” or “teaching” session, I understand maybe not going that route, but for me small groups are more about accountability and getting people stuck to one another so that when a situation arises where they need each other, its natural…its already there. Does that make sense, or am I missing something?

    1. I think small groups are vital for exactly the reasons you outline. The point I was trying to make was that, for spiritually immature people who won’t go to a second church event in any given week, the Small Church gives them a small group experience already – especially in a VERY Small Church.

      A spiritually mature person will realize they need more than a Sunday morning service.

      In our church, we gave up on trying to do a small group “program” because so many people were already getting everything they needed from small groups through our youth, seniors, men’s, women’s, missions teams, etc.

      Megachurches need to be more intentional about small groups because no one gets the small group accountability and fellowship on Sundays. But in a Small Church, many people get that already, so a “small group curriculum” may not be as needed.

      For a little more on this, you may want to check out this post: http://newsmallchurch.com/no-small-group-ministry/

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