9 Essential Elements of a Healthy Small Church Experience

Unlocked Turn KnobWhen someone goes to a healthy Small Church for the first time, what should they expect?

That’s an easier question to answer for big churches, because they have a lot more in common with each other. Once any group – church or not – is serving 1,000 or more people at a time, certain systems have to be in place. So, while big churches each have their own personality, there is a level of quality control that we all expect to see. Age-appropriate Kid Ministries, high-end musicianship, professional-quality graphics and printed materials, etc. It’s like going to a brand-name restaurant when you’re travelling. There’s a comfort level in knowing what you’re going to get.

But the kinds of experiences you’ll have in Small Churches varies widely. It’s more like visiting a new town and deciding to check out the local diner. You don’t know what you’re going to get, but you take the risk because you want regional cuisine. And you’re hoping for an experience you can’t get anywhere else.

But, even in a Small Church, as varied as they are, first-time guests have the right to expect certain things that tell them the church is healthy. Like a local restaurant should observe standard requirements for cleanliness, service and food quality, Small Churches should have a baseline of quality that people can rely on.

In one of my most-read posts, 23 Non-Numerical Signs of a Healthy Church, I wrote about some of the ways we can tell if a church is healthy, even if we don’t have the numerical growth that many seem to believe is a requirement.

Here are a few things that I think are a baseline that every guest has a right to expect in any healthy Small Church. These are universal. The standards every church needs to observe if they want to create a great worship experience that people will want to come back for.

This list isn’t complete. So feel free to add your ideas in the comment section.


1. Genuine, Intentional Friendliness

This is the main reason people go to a Small Church instead of a big one – connectedness and community. While lack of it is probably the #1 reason guests won’t return. This is something all healthy Small Churches should excel at.

In Why Unfriendly Big Churches Are Bad – But Unfriendly Small Churches Can Be Dangerous, I talked about how hard it can be for someone to walk into a Small Church for the first time. Receiving, or not receiving a genuinely friendly greeting may make or break that experience for them.

You may think your church is friendly. Most church people do, because that’s where their friends are. But we must be intentional about reaching outside of our own circle to welcome others in. 


2. Sincere, Passionate Worship and Prayer

Your Small Church probably isn’t putting out a studio-quality worship album this year. In fact, your response to that last sentence may have been “Yeah, right. What worship team?!” But that doesn’t mean your worship can’t be sincere and passionate.

I haven’t been quiet about the fact that I prefer new music for my worship experience. But new or old doesn’t really matter. Even though I believe we should do it the best we can, real worship isn’t about the songs or the musicianship. It’s about hearts turned towards Jesus in praise and prayer.


3. A Building that’s Been Painted Within the Last Decade

Last year my wife and I were in a Gypsy church in Eastern Europe. The poverty was oppressive. The building had no indoor plumbing. But what they did have was tended to with great care and respect.

If your church has a building, it needs to be kept up. That means budgeting for long-term maintenance like painting, repairing leaks, etc. It doesn’t need to be perfect – a lot of Small Churches aren’t able to pay their pastor’s salary, so it can be hard to justify upgrading the building. But the free, or almost-free things like painting the building and cutting the grass shows care and concern.


4. A Building that’s Been Cleaned Within the Last Week

You don’t even need to own a building to do this. Wherever you’re meeting needs to be scrubbed clean. Especially the restrooms and kids’ areas.


5. Start On Time

I know not everyone gets to church on time. Just a few weeks ago, we started a service with fewer people in the seats than on stage. But if you get into the habit of starting late because people arrive late, they’ll get into the habit of coming even later.

A late start may not bother regular attenders, but it makes newcomers feel very awkward and uncomfortable. Starting on schedule tells your guests that you’re prepared, that you care about them and that you respect their time.


6. Accurate, Up-to-Date Ministry Information

Whether you have a handout bulletin, a website, a Facebook page or you write announcements on a roll of butcher paper in the lobby (our church does all four) the information must be accurate and up-to-date. You’re better off having nothing than having inaccurate or out-of-date info.

Even if your church is more spontaneous in your worship experience, it’s helpful to add a few lines in the bulletin that tells newcomers what they can expect in the service that day.

What to Expect TodayAs an example, here’s my church’s “Here’s What to Expect Today” page from last week’s bulletin. Click it to see an enlarged version.


7. Obvious Signage

It doesn’t need to cost much. But people should to be able to find you. And once they’ve found you, they need to know where everything is – especially the bathrooms and kids’ room(s).


8. A Clear, Practical Presentation of the Gospel

This is priority #1 in any church, whatever its size.

We should never be sloppy, boring or inaccurate in our presentation of the Gospel.

Nothing else means anything if the bible is not honored, taught, preached and lived in the simplest, clearest way possible. And people should know what to do about the message when they leave.

The message should also have some serious study and prayer put into it. Whether we’re speaking with ten people or preaching to 10,000, we should never give anything but our best when it comes to presenting God’s Word.


9. Opportunities to Serve – Inside and Outside the Church

Take a look at your bulletin. Listen to your announcements. Is it all about internal events? Or are there opportunities to serve each other and minister to the community that would be obvious to anyone coming to your church for the first time?

New people don’t come to a Small Church to be an audience. That’s much easier to do in a bigger church. They come to participate – in fellowship, worship and ministry. Don’t make people search for ministry opportunities. Put them front-and-center.


So what do you think? What would you add to this list?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

 (Unlocked, Turn Knob photo from Kyle van Horn • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

13 thoughts on “9 Essential Elements of a Healthy Small Church Experience”

    1. Thanks, Pam. I’ve had some regulars tell me that page is unnecessary and wasteful to print every week, but I think they’ve just forgotten what it was like when they first arrived.

  1. It may sound nitpicky but the color you paint your church building matters. Do some research on the effects of different colors on people’s moods before you select a color.. Don’t select a color because it is “fashionable.” One small church with which I am acquainted was at one time painted a bright, uplifting white. Then it was given a fresh coat of paint–a somber shade of grade. The congregation may be pleased with the color. The building needed a new coat of paint and the gray paint may have been the less expensive of their choices. With the new coat of paint the building looks better than it did before it was painted. However, upon the occasional visitor like myself the gray paint has a decided psychological effect. it makes me think twice about whether I want to enter the building.

    1. “…a somber shade of grade?” I meant “gray” not “grade.” The color we paint the interiors of our churches also matter. The interior of the church building that I mentioned is much more cheerful than its exterior. The walls are painted white as is the ceiling and the pews are a light-colored wood. The color of the wooden furniture on the platform matches the color of the pews.

  2. So agree. We are kindof new in our church. So I as a worship leader, I go to everyone I don’t know or haven’t seen and introduce myself. Sometimes it is interesting when that person says “oh I’ve been going here for years”. I just smile and say great. Welcome and come back real soon. Blessings. I also agree with starting on time. OUr new minister does not. We have a very small old church and he likes to greet everyone, and I am glad with that. But then he stands in the back of the church talking to one of the elders. So as I play gathering music and keep on playing, we are now 10 – 15 minutes late to start. I know its all God’s time, but should I just stop playing? I am not too comfortable approaching the elder and new pastor about time. Thanks again Karl for this blog. It is helpful and always thought provoking

    1. That’s a tough one, Peggy. Have you approached the pastor about the importance of starting on time? Is the pastor approachable on that? If not, that’s one of the challenges of being on a church staff – we have to follow someone else’s lead, even when it’s not the way we’d do it.

  3. Rev. Marcia Wickert

    There’s nothing that will turn away a newcomer than a building that is not clean and neat, or smells “funny”. Perceptions DO matter.

  4. Pingback: 51 Great Links for Leaders, Readers, and Creatives - February 7, 2015

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *