9 Reasons To Embrace The Term “Small Church”

Being small is not a problem, so calling us small churches isn't a problem either.

A lot of people don’t like the term, small church. Including many small-church pastors.

Before I started the ministry of Helping Small Churches Thrive, I debated using a different term for churches like ours. After all, I wanted to help small church pastors. And that’s hard to do if I’m using a term that feels insulting.

But I not only stuck with small church, I embraced it. And now I celebrate it.

Here’s why.

1. It’s Normal

Ninety percent of churches are under 200. Eighty percent are under 100.

That’s a lot of small. Small is normal.

Pretending we’re not small by refusing to use the term small church, isn’t faith, it’s denying reality.

2. It’s Clear and Accurate

Church leaders love using terms other than small church. I’ve heard them called neighborhood churches, family churches, bistro churches, normal churches, and more.

But when everyone is using a different term to describe the same thing, it’s confusing.

Plus, each of those terms requires an explanation as to what it means. Can I come to a family church if I’m single, for instance?

Small church is clear and accurate. Clear and accurate is always good.

3. It’s Singular and Uniting

Language is powerful. It can unite or divide us.

When we use a variety of terms for small churches, as in the previous point, we splinter ourselves into further factions. By using one clear term, we can nudge ourselves to see what we have in common, allowing us to work together better.

4. It Needs to Be Destigmatized

Small is not wrong, stuck or broken. But it carries that stigma.

Because of that stigma, a lot of otherwise great small churches and small-church pastors are trying to fix what isn’t broken, and/or suffering under a cloud of perceived failure that can be debilitating.

5. It Can Be Empowering

We need to reclaim the term “small church” as a source of strength.

When we refuse to use the term, we perpetuate the stereotype that being small is a problem. But being small is not a problem. So calling us small churches isn’t a problem either.

It’s empowering to know and declare who we are. Then we can celebrate who we are. And then God can use who we are.

6. It Helps Us Realize the Value of Small Churches

The day I declared I was a small-church pastor was the day I started discovering the true value of small churches.

For instance, I found that, in regions where the church is experiencing the greatest growth as a percentage of the population – like many parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America – it’s happening almost entirely through the multiplication of small churches.

7. It Helps Us Do Small Church Better

One of the main reasons people avoid using the term “small church” is because it feels like admitting defeat and settling for less.

Nothing in me will allow me to settle for less.

Small isn’t less, unless we let it be.

Once we realize we can do small-church ministry well without settling for less we’re free to do small church better.

8. It’s Distinct

We need big churches and small churches because a church’s size says nothing about a church’s value.

Using honest language about our size helps us stand up and stand out as a distinct and necessary part of the body of Christ.

Not big. Not better than big. Not worse than big.

But clearly distinct from big.

9. Small Churches Are Different – In a Good Way

If you’re in a church of 30, a church of 200 seems huge. But I use 200 as the dividing line between small and medium-sized (as does almost every church growth leader) because that’s where a lot of things change.

Under 200, the pastor can still be the primary caretaker of the church. Over 200, the leadership has to move from pastoring to managing, from shepherding to ranching.

Neither of those leadership styles is wrong, in fact they’re each appropriate for their size. But they are very different.

Small churches and their leaders need to embrace those differences, not be ashamed of them.

Small can be awesome, if we do small well.

That starts by acknowledging who we are, and knowing that it’s a good thing to be.

(Photo by Kreg Steppe | Flickr)


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