5 Principles Small Churches Can Learn From Megachurches

You're Never Too Young to Dream BigSmall Churches are not scaled-down versions of megachurches.

We’re different, not just in size, but in methodology. A lot of what works in big churches just won’t work in smaller ones. And vice versa.

But there are some overlapping principles. Starting with the scriptural fundamentals, of course.

Over the years, I’ve noticed some principles that bigger and megachurches tend to do well, that Small Churches can learn from.

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

1. Clarity of Purpose

It’s idealistic to think you can set up a church, preach the gospel and people will come. It didn’t work that way for the Apostle Paul so it won’t work for us.

Maybe the best thing to come out of the church growth movement is the focus on having a clear sense of purpose.

We need to know why our church exists.

When I was interviewing to be the pastor of my current congregation, they asked “What’s your vision for our church and community?”

My answer? “I don’t have a vision for your church and community.” Brilliant, right? Hey, don’t knock it. I got the job. And I just started my 21st year here.

Actually, my answer was longer than that. I continued with, “I don’t know your church or this community, so there’s no way I can have a vision for it yet. But if we agree that I’m called to be your pastor, we’ll spend the next few years asking God to show us that vision together.”

And that’s what we did. It took longer than I expected, but we didn’t give up until we knew what our purpose was. We know why we’re here. We know what we do well, and what we’re not called to do at all.

That understanding is one of the first things any healthy church needs. If you can’t answer the simple question “why does this church exist?” find out.

If you can’t find out why your church exists, maybe it shouldn’t. (ouch!)


2. Consistency

Megachurches have this one down pat. Too much so, for my taste.

I like a little bit of space in a church service where real life can pop up. But I’ve also learned from megachurches that a baseline of consistency is a must for a healthy church.

People should have an idea what to expect when they come to your church.

People want to invite friends to a church they love, but they won’t bring them if they’re never sure what strange new thing might happen this Sunday morning.

Consistency starts with something as simple as truth in advertising. If it’s called a prayer breakfast, pray during the breakfast. If we tell people it’s a fellowship night, it’s dishonest to turn it into a surprise evangelistic service. It’s called bait-and-switch, and it’s illegal when your grocery store does it. It’s unethical when our churches do it.

Yes, things change. Especially in the often unreliable world of Small Churches. Change is good. But surprises usually aren’t good. They should be the exception, not the rule.

Speaking of reducing surprises…


3. Planning

Megachurches have mega-schedules with mega-calendars. Some events are planned months, even years in advance. But it’s impractical and unnecessary for most Small Churches to plan an entire year in advance, (unless you’re high liturgy, where a lot of your year is already set for you, of course.)

But we need to stop doing everything at the last minute. I suggesting starting small. Here are a few, simple planning ideas that work for me.

Preach sermons in series. It’s less work, more consistent and easier for you and the congregation to remember.

Put the title of next week’s message in this week’s bulletin. It disciplines the pastor to think at least one week ahead, reduces the Saturday night panic and increases the quality of your message, with less stress and work for you.

Never finish one meeting before putting the next one on the calendar. Have everyone grab their calendars and compare notes before they leave. It’s less work than trying to pull everyone together to compare calendars over email later.

Make notes on any event that will be repeated later. Within a week of any special event, write down what worked and what didn’t. Especially for annual events. You’ll forget it by this time next year.

Plan seasonal events in advance. Christmas should never be a last-minute scramble. It’ll probably happen on December 25 this year, too. Start thinking, talking and planning in September.

Planning seems like more work to begin with. But it will mean a lot less work in the long run. And a lot less stress, too.


4. Accountability Systems

For some people, megachurches may feel like they’re just one big, impersonal system. I don’t happen to feel that way. But even if you do, that doesn’t make systems evil or unnecessary.

I’m not a systems guy.  If I have to spend more than a couple hours in any given week making sure the right numbers go into the right boxes, I start dying a little on the inside. But I’ve learned that good systems aren’t about putting numbers in boxes, they’re about accountability and protection.

So I spend those couple of hours each week building and maintaining proper systems. I and the church are better off for it. (In tomorrow’s post I’ll talk about some significant limitations of systems).

Start with some basics to protect yourself, your church and your integrity. Beginning with one basic principle.

Never be alone with the money.

Here are some simple steps to make that happen:

  • Have two people count every offering
  • Deposit the money into the bank as soon as possible
  • Set up a simple, accurate accounting system
  • Set up a budget
  • Stick to the budget
  • Have someone other than you or your family members doing as much of this as possible

Proper systems on their own will never build a healthy church. But bad systems – or no systems – can kill one.


5. Training & Delegation

Megachurches design complex systems to train people. They offer everything from discipleship classes to music workshops and more. And they have enough staff and volunteers to delegate most of the necessary tasks.

But how do you train and delegate when a church is so small there aren’t enough people to come to a training class, let alone enough money to hire staff?

Do what Jesus did. Start with one. As I said in an earlier post, we need to stop doing everything alone.

Jesus called his disciples one or two at a time. And he didn’t have a class or curriculum for them. He just asked them to follow along, watch what he did, then do what they saw him do. Then he answered the questions that came as a result of that relationship.

You don’t need a classroom or curriculum to start. You don’t even need a plan. You just need someone who’s willing to spend an hour a week with you.

And don’t rely on an announcement to get that person. People don’t respond to announcements. People respond to a personal invitation.

Ask someone if they can show up an hour early on Sunday to help you set up, or stick around for an hour after the service is over to help you tear down. Or have them with you if you’re the only one counting the offering and making the deposit. Take them along on hospital visitation. Find out what they can do, then have them do it with you.

As you see what they do well, or have a gifting in, start handing that job off to them. Then grab another person and do the same.

Small Churches can’t do things the way megachurches do things. And we shouldn’t even try. But let’s not be so stubborn, prideful or (I’ll say it) stupid that we think we can’t learn from each other.

The foot can help the hand. And the ear can learn from the eye.


Want more? Click here to read the sequel, “5 More Principles Small Churches Can Learn from Megachurches“.

So what do you think? Are there principles you’ve learned from megachurches that have worked in your Small Church?

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

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

  1. My biggest need for improvement is announcing a need – instead of asking personally. Firstly, when I think of who I could ask I usually draw a blank. I honestly don’t know who’d be interested and I think a general announcement might induce someone to say, “Hey, I could do that.” Secondly, I fear that asking in person will scare people – if they really don’t want to do something, it’s much easier to say no to a piece of paper (sign-up sheet) than to someone in person – I always try to be as non threatening as possible – I don’t do this because I’m afraid of asking people, but just trying to work with the personalities of folks (who are shy and introverted)….but many times I end up just doing it myself because like you said, announcements usually don’t work – actually they work about 1/2 the time, in our situation…but still this is an area I need to improve upon.

    1. I was preaching to myself on this one. I have a hard time with the face-to-face ask, also. But, especially for the kind of training I mention in the article, people need to know they’re special enough to be asked personally.

      The one-to-one request doesn’t make people feel like thy’re being imposed upon, it makes them feel special. As long as we let them know we’re offering them something of value, not just requesting something from them.

  2. As always thank you for your wisdom. I have seen the difference it was made in my small church pastor’s life. Your work encourages many, keep it coming.

  3. One thing I like about big churches is that they do everything with EXCELLENCE! Sometimes we small churches act like we cannot do our events or ministries in an excellent way because we don’t have enough money or people or talent or resources, etc. However, I believe that with a little creativity and some extra effort in the planning we, too, could minister with excellence. Just because we are small doesn’t mean we should limit ourselves to doing things half-way. Dreaming big is possible even in a small church! 🙂

    1. Absolutely. As long as we have a proper, biblical definition of excellence, Small Churches can do it just as well as megachurches. Small is never an excuse to settle for less. Some of the most innovative churches I know are small.

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