The Counter-Cultural Statement Of a Strategic Small Church

upstreamThe church I pastor will probably never be a really big church.

Not because we don’t want to grow. We do. And we are.

But, given the specific combination of gifts, location, property, demographics and God’s call on our church, small works better for us.

And we’re not alone in this.

Many churches are in situations like ours. Their smallness is not an indication of failure, it’s the best way for them to do the ministry God is calling them to do.


Here’s Why Small Works For Us

A couple months ago, a pastor from a small town visited our church, so I gave her a tour of the property. We have a very small church building on a very small piece of land in a very expensive city.

After giving her the tour, and showing her some of the ministries that happen both in and from our church, her first words were, “I’ll never complain about not having enough space in my church again.”

Her second comment was a question. “With all that you’re squeezing into this building, why don’t you buy a bigger one?” In her community, land is plentiful and cheap. Building or buying a bigger facility there makes sense.

But not in our community. 

We could probably sell our less-than-one-acre property tomorrow for $3 million. But we’d have to spend an additional $3 million ($6 million total) to get a property of just under 2 acres, if we could find it (which is a big “if”). If we wanted to triple our size to just under 3 acres, which is still not a big piece of land for a church, it would cost us an additional $6 million ($9 million total).

Or we could take a different route. We could start buying the houses that surround our church one-at-a-time on the rare occasions when they become available. Today, these average-size middle-class houses would sell for $500,000 – $750,000. Even if we could buy them all, it would cost over $5 million to double our property that way.

Even if our congregation of middle-class families and young students could raise that much money, would it be the wisest investment of our money, energy and time? We have decided it would not be.

I’m not saying that building a bigger church can’t be done. There are plenty of megachurches in our county. This is a no-excuse zone.

I’m saying that we have chosen to do something different than that. Something that works better for us, given our mission and our situation.


Small As a Decision, Not An Excuse

We do not believe it is right for our church to put our time, energy and prayers into chasing $6 million worth of money and debt-accumulation for such a small property gain.

Besides, Orange County has plenty of big- and megachurches. Are more welcome? Sure. We could always use a few more. But we also need a whole bunch of great small and mid-size churches.

We want to be one of those. And we want to help plant other churches. Which we’ve done already.

Our church is more gifted at making, training and sending disciples than we are at building and managing a large church and its requisite facilities.

If we could raise $3 – $6 million, there are many other things we would rather do with that money than build another church facility. There are so many existing ministries we could bless, and not-yet-existing ministries we could start – including other churches we could plant.

Our church can have a greater impact on the body of Christ by being an example of a great, healthy, outward-reaching, innovative Small Church than we can by being another big church.


Buy The Grasshopper MythSmall As a Counter-Cultural Statement

Doing small awesome is counter-cultural. And our culture (especially in image-obsessed Orange County, California) needs to be countered.

Strategic smallness makes a statement. In a culture that’s obsessed with size and appearance, strategic smallness may make more of a statement than bigness.

In many areas, and for many churches in our area, big is the right thing to do. It works for them and the ministry God is calling them to.

But small is what works for us.

Doing innovative, outward-reaching ministry in and from a smaller church building tells our consumer-driven community that we’re doing ministry for them, not for us. When we raise money, it’s to pass on to others instead of keeping it to buy more property for ourselves.

And our example might just send that message to other communities – and other churches, too.

The growth of the church is a biblical mandate. But bigger church buildings are not.

Bigger is better for some, but not all. Every church needs to know what their mission is, then use the right tools, including the right building size (or no building at all) to do that mission.


So what do you think? Have you factored your church’s size into your church’s mission?

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(Upstream photo from Benjamin Ellis • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

2 thoughts on “The Counter-Cultural Statement Of a Strategic Small Church”

  1. “Small As a Decision, Not An Excuse” Excellent point.
    “Small As a Counter Cultural Statement” Excellent point
    I would like to add another
    Small As Obedience to the biblical mandate.

    There are 58 “one another” instructions in the NT that require small. There is not even one instruction for one-way communication or crowd oriented behavior. Not one that I can find. (“Preach the word” does not actually say or mean lecture the word by one person.) There are times when it happened or when it may have happened, but these are not instructions. When we invest time and resources in what God has not instructed it dilutes and misdirects God’s people from what he has instructed. Every mega church has a small group ministry but it will be around 25% of the total. That is 75% misdirected from God’s specific instructions. This is sever misdirection and mandate avoidance being pandered to by leaders.

    “The growth of the church is a biblical mandate. But bigger church buildings are not.”

    I am reemphasizing the above statement. If we are investing $ and people in what is not a mandate, we are diluting the mandate – are we not? Would this be considered disobedience?

    1. I hear where you’re coming from, Tim. But I don’t think preaching to a crowd is misdirected. Jesus did it. And small churches do it as often as megachurches do it. Mine included. No, it isn’t mandated, but neither is blogging or commenting on blogs. We use methods that aren’t mandated all the time.

      I’m not a big fan of either/or when it comes to methods. I think we should use any method that works. Yes, we need to work harder at the “one anothers”, but just because 75% of people in a megachurch aren’t involved in that church’s small groups doesn’t mean they’re not doing the “one another” parts. Many people do ministry that isn’t connected to or recorded by any church (caring for seniors, feeding the hungry, recovery ministry, etc), then go to church on Sunday to get re-filled to go back out and do more ministry. I know of several people in my church who live like that. They do great ministry in their daily lives, then come on Sunday for refreshing and infilling. They’ll never be church volunteers because they’re already doing ministry elsewhere, but I’m happy that our church can serve them so they can go out and serve others.

      Sure, there are many passive observers in churches – large and small – but we need to be careful about judging people simply because they aren’t involved in a small church or is a big church’s small group ministry.

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