8 Reasons Why It’s OK to Call Your Church a Small Church

OK“I don’t like calling any church a small church,” someone wrote on a friend’s Facebook page last week. “I like to call them growing churches.”

I hear that sentiment a lot. And I understand it. After all, I used to share it.

As I wrote in The Grasshopper Myth, and I state at the start of pretty much every talk I give to pastors, I didn’t think I was Small Church pastor for the first 25 years I was one.

For decades (yes, decades!) I refused to acknowledge that my church was small or that I was a Small Church pastor. Not any more. Now, I’m not just OK with it, I celebrate it.

Some people don’t like using the term Small Church because, in their minds, that term equates with a church being sickly, settling or worse. But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Even when I was writing my book and creating this website, I debated calling Small Churches by another term. Some of the ideas I considered, and that other people have suggested to me, included

  • Growing Church
  • Neighborhood Church
  • Boutique Church
  • Bistro Church
  • Microchurch
  • Nanochurch
  • Smaller Church
  • even Bite-size and Fun-size Church (those were tongue-in-cheek, but I kinda like them)

But, after thinking through all the implications, I finally decided to stick with the basics. And now I’m not just OK with the term Small Church, I insist on it and celebrate it. Here’s why:


1. It’s Accurate

I dislike euphemisms. I prefer calling something what it actually is using simple, accurate language.

No, a Small Church isn’t just a Small Church. It will have a lot of other characteristics, too. So let’s use those terms when describing those characteristics.

But when we’re dealing with aspects of the church that relate to its size, let’s call it what it is – small.


2. It’s Clear

The problem with each of the alternatives listed above is that they all require an explanation.

Not every Small Church is growing and not every growing church is small. Not every Small Church is in a neighborhood. Boutique and Bistro sound like we’re selling clothes or coffee. Micro and Nano sound like science experiments. And Smaller sounds like we’re only willing to commit halfway to the concept.

The world is confusing enough without using unclear language when there’s a perfectly good, clearly understandable term we can use. When you say a church is small, no one is confused about what you mean.


3. It’s Not a Confession of Failure or Sin

This may be the main reason people don’t like the term Small Church. To say “my church is small”, feels like we’re admitting defeat and settling for less.

Again, I understand that sentiment. I felt that way for years about my own church.

But those negative feelings say more about our twisted value system – equating size with success – than they do about the value of Small Churches and those who lead and attend them.


4. It’s Not an Insult

It’s not offensive to call something what it actually is.

The only way the term Small Church is insulting, is if you think there’s something wrong with being small. Now that’s insulting. 

Being small is not a problem. So calling us small is not an insult.


5. Small Churches Are Different

Small Churches can learn a lot from our big church counterparts. But Small Churches aren’t just big churches on a smaller scale. We operate in some different ways and use different methods.

Too many Small Churches are trying to be something they’re not. They keep trying to use big church principles, most of which will never work in a Small Church context, simply because they refuse to acknowledge what they are.


6. Small Churches are Awesome!

I’d hate to think of what the world would look like without all the amazing Small Churches tucked into every corner of the globe, bringing hope, healing, life and joy.

If we all paid more attention to the positive aspects of Small Churches, we’d see that. There’s nothing to feel embarrassed by and plenty to celebrate.


7. It Connects Us to Great Heritage and Fellowship

For almost 2,000 years, the church of Jesus has moved forward, mostly on the shoulders of Small Churches.

Even today, with so much attention given to megachurches, 90% of the churches in the world are under 200 people. Half the believers in the world attend those churches.

Small Churches share a wonderful heritage and fellowship. Let’s honor and promote that, not undermine or ignore it.


8. It’s Liberating

The recognition that I am a Small Church pastor was one of the most liberating moments of my life, because it freed me to concentrate on doing that well, instead of trying to be something I’m not.

It’s time for Small Churches to become great churches. That starts with acknowledging that we are small and that small can be great.


So what do you think? Are you OK with saying your Small Church is a Small Church?

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(It Will Be OK sign photo from Scott Akerman • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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2 thoughts on “8 Reasons Why It’s OK to Call Your Church a Small Church”

  1. Karl, I like the idea here: own the truth rather than trying to be something you’re not. Still, I wonder about the entire culture of defining ourselves by size. It appears that the only thing people want to know about churches is how big they are, and that seems odd to me regardless of the size.

    1. I agree with you, Lawrence. We certainly need to de-emphasize numbers in our church culture. The only reason I reach out to Small Churches in my ministry is because there’s so little help for them and so much emphasize on bigger being better. Plus, there are some methods that are different for Small Churches than big ones, but there are very few resources helping Small Church pastors know what they are.

      I look forward to the day when size matters so little that it doesn’t even factor in to our discussions about church health and effectiveness.

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