I Don’t Want Churches To Be Small; I Want Small Churches To Be Great

Small churches have unique strengths and gifts. But we must know three basic truths if we hope to turn those strengths into reality.

“Why do you want churches to be small?” I hear that question a lot.

My answer? I don’t want churches to be small.

Wanting churches to be small is like wanting Hawaii to be sunny, or vegetables to be nutritious. We don’t need to want it. That’s their normal state of being.

Like it or not, churches tend to be small. Over 90 percent of the churches on earth are under 200 people. Over 80 percent are under 100. That’s a whole lot of small.

It’s always been that way. Even today, with the advent of megachurches, those percentages haven’t changed much.

So my desire to help small churches isn’t because I want churches to be small. It’s because I want the millions of small churches in the world to be great.

No matter how great any church is, it can always be greater. Many of them already are, of course. But no matter how great any church is, it can always be greater. Healthier. Better. Whatever its size.

(This article is adapted from my book, Small Church Essentials.)

If we want small churches to be great, we need to acknowledge three basic truths:

Truth 1: Small Churches Can Be Great

A lot of people don’t realize this, including small church pastors. We’ve become so obsessed with church growth that we’ve inadvertently sent the message to millions of prayerful, Godly, hardworking small church leaders that they can’t be a great church until they’re a big church.

That’s simply untrue.

I know because I’ve been in many great small churches. And I’ve served in them for over forty years.

Small churches can be great. If you attend or lead one, don’t believe the lie that it can’t be. Not only is it untrue, it’s also counterproductive. That lie may be the main roadblock holding you back from being a great church right now. A small church can’t be great if we don’t think it can be.

Instead, believe this truth: You don’t need to become big for your church to become great. It can be great now.

Truth 2: Great Small Churches Look Different Than Great Big Churches

One of the obstacles preventing many small churches from being great is that so much of our pastoral training comes from a big church perspective. That’s not a bad thing. I’ve learned a lot from the conferences and books by the same well-known megachurch pastors you’ve learned from.

But when we pastor a small church, there’s only so much we can learn from those who lead big churches. Even if they used to pastor a small church, most don’t know the experience of pastoring a church that stays small for many years.

Small churches are different. When I learn about pastoring from a megachurch pastor, I have to leave a lot on the cutting room floor. Typically, about one-third of what they say applies to me and my situation. Sometimes less.

So where do we get help for the rest of it? Small church leaders need to talk to each other.

I need to hear from pastors of other small churches that are doing great work for the kingdom of God. Then, I need to turn around and share what I’ve learned.

Truth 3: Some Great Churches Stay Small

This is a big truth that always receives a lot of negative feedback. So before you warm up your typing fingers to tell me “all healthy things grow!”, please realize that I know and agree with that truth wholeheartedly. All healthy things grow. Yes. Indisputably.

Here’s how I addressed the issue of inevitable growth in my book, The Grasshopper Myth:

Yes, all healthy things grow. But growth is never as simple as older equals taller or healthy equals bigger. A pea will never be the size of a pumpkin and a rose won’t ever reach the height of a redwood no matter how much you water them, fertilize them or teach them redwood growth principles. It’s just not in their nature. All healthy, living things reach their optimal size at maturity, then they grow in different ways from that point on.

What if that principle applied to churches? I have come to believe it does. If the church is one body with many parts, isn’t it possible, even likely, that the body of Christ needs churches of all sizes?

I am not a failure if my church reaches its optimal stage of maturity, then starts growing in ways other than butts in seats for weekend services.

No Excuses

Many churches don’t see consistent numerical growth. But that is never an excuse to do ministry with anything less than our full hearts and prayer-filled efforts.

Being small is not an excuse to do church poorly.

This is a no-excuse zone. We are all called to participate in the growth of the church, no matter what size our congregation may be.

In fact, according to Neil Cole in Is Bigger Really Better? The Statistics Actually Say “No”!, healthy small churches multiply faster than big churches. That’s why, in locations around the world where the church is growing as a percentage of the population, individual congregations tend to be even smaller.

Small churches can be great. Small churches must be great. Because great small churches can change the world.

Are you ready for your church to be great?

You don’t need to wait. Greatness can start today.

(Photo by OakleyOriginals | Flickr)


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