Surprising Insights About Church Growth from Small Church Members

Surprising Insights about Church Growth from Small Church MembersPeople love Small Churches.

It’s pastors who have a problem with them.

The Grasshopper Myth book has been in the hands of the members of my church for about a month. And I’m currently teaching through the principles of it on Sunday mornings. (They’re being recorded and will be podcast here soon.)

So the feedback I’m getting isn’t just from the church leaders I wrote the book for, but from congregation members – the people we lead. As a Small Church pastor, I’m getting it directly from people I know. So it’s not anonymous, it’s not poll data and it’s not filtered.

As I was trying to put their spoken words into written form, I received a beautiful, heartfelt comment on yesterday’s post that reflected those feelings far better than I could have. It’s from a woman I don’t know, named Diane.

Here’s the majority of the comment:

…I attend a small church, and for all of you who are small church pastors, I say thank you and bless you.

I want a pastor who knows me by name, who will be with me in the cold spells until Jesus lifts me up into his loving arms. I want a pastor who has the same passion for God that I do.

I want a pastor who teaches God’s Word, I want a pastor who is willing to work for the Lord hand in hand, who will fellowship with me, who is willing to learn hand in hand beside me.

I want a pastor to whom I can confide, laugh,and cry; a pastor who is my brother/sister in Christ, a pastor who is a part of our small community, who is forthright, honest, with a love for what he is doing because he knows the Lord called him.

I want a pastor who will lead us in growth (not in number, but in spiritual growth).

I ask the Lord daily to give all small church pastors the strength, love and wisdom they need. I ask daily for their families to be blessed. I ask daily for the Lord to bless them (It’s a calling, and not many of us could come close to following their footsteps).

I am a Small Church member, and for all small church pastors, remember…a small church in a small community is a mega church in a small community.

Thank you!

God Bless,

– Diane Carr


Thank you, Diane. You’re not alone in your feelings.


A Peak Behind the Curtain

In The Grasshopper Myth, I relate how the main emphasis in pastoral leadership circles for the past several decades has been on growing big churches. Many pastors read books, hold conferences and hire marketing experts to “fix the problem” of no growth or not-fast-enough growth to the point of obsession.

When congregation members hear this, they’re not happy. They love their Small Church, and they’re surprised and upset to discover that their own pastor may not share those feelings.

The average church attender couldn’t care less about how big their church is. And it bothers them when they find out that pushing for numerical growth is what a lot of their pastors base so many of their decisions, and spend so much of their time on.

To a lot of them, it feels like electing and paying a Senator to represent you, only to find out they’re spending all their time running for president, instead.

Plus, they sense a disconnect between what their pastor is saying and what we spend our time doing.

On Sunday, we teach the principles of God’s Word. Principles that include “the first shall be last,” “whoever humbles himself will be exalted” and the story of Gideon’s army. On Monday through Saturday we obsess over how to get more “customers” in the door.

It feels like bait-and-switch. And it makes many of them them wonder if the church is really that much different than Wal-Mart.

And no, let me say it again, this is not a slam on megachurches. They are important members of the body of Christ. The problem isn’t church size, small or large. The problem is when we have a one-note obsession with it to the point that we can’t appreciate the value of smallness.

Some reading this will, no doubt, be upset at me for pulling the curtain back and putting this painful truth out there – and especially for pointing it out in a book that any church member can pick up and read. But can anyone really argue that it’s not the truth?


Who Are We Doing This For?

It seems as if the things many pastors obsess about, like church size, mean very little to the people we say we’re doing it for. So who, exactly, are we doing it for?

God? Our church members? Or our ego?

Congregation members often have a greater understanding of the value of a wonderful, loving, healthy Small Church than pastors do.

Size doesn’t matter to the average church-goer.

I know what you’re thinking. If that’s true, why are megachurches so… mega?

I don’t think it’s the bigness. I think it’s the benefits that come with bigness. Nice facilities, multi-level programming, high-quality preaching & musicianship, etc.

So a quality experience in worship matters. But there are a lot of church members who measure quality in different ways than many pastors do. As evidenced by Diana’s comments, a well-crafted Sunday stage show and specifically-tailored programs aren’t nearly as important to many church-goers as genuine relationships, solid bible teaching and moral integrity.

Any church of any size can do that.

They get it – do we?


So what do you think? Do pastors need to adjust our thinking on this? Do our church members know something we don’t?

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

(Question Finger photo from Tsahi Levent-Levi • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

9 thoughts on “Surprising Insights About Church Growth from Small Church Members”

  1. Fantastic post! Thank you so much. For someone new to ministry in a small church this is so encouraging, because it can often feel like what I’m doing is insignificant – at least when I base it off of my thoughts on what “success” looks like. But my thoughts on success aren’t the point.

    1. Keep at it, Andy. Our congregations often have a greater appreciation for what we’re doing than pastors have about ourselves. And God sees it, too. I’m so glad I could be an encouragement.

  2. I am glad you are doing this. Small churches are facing great challenges. For me the issue isn’t numbers but being a significant influence for the Kingdom. Failure for me would be to Pastor a small church and only be maintaining a “spiritual nursing home.”

    1. “No spiritual nursing homes.” I love it! I may steal that title from you in the future.

      I did a piece called “No TLCs (Timid Little Churches)” last November with a similar idea (

      That “significant influence” you mention is the reason for the word “Innovative” in the New Small Church motto. It’s not about size, fads or style. It’s about changing whatever needs to be changed and keeping whatever needs to be kept, in order to have that influence.

      I’m glad to have you in on the conversation, Roland. We Small Church pastors need each other.

  3. WOW, this article hit a major turning point for me.

    Thank you Diane for posting, and thank you Karl fro sharing it.

    I am BEYOND blessed to have Gary and Diane in our faith family!!! And I did not know she posted that comment…

    So excuse me while I go to the supply closet and get some more tissues for my office!

  4. What a wonderful piece. Scott, you weren’t the only one needing tissues. How encouraging!! It’s the people. Period. Oh, how we need to remember that!
    We’ve had quite a few in our little church family, promise us, “Please don’t ever think of leaving until after I’m gone (heaven).” We’ve never indicated that we would ever think of leaving, but they just want to make sure. They want their pastor to be their when their time comes to cross over.
    One DEAR lady, who I miss terribly, was near death. She’d been transferred to a Nursing Home and the family had been called in on several occasions thinking “it was time.” Finally, the time was drawing near. That particular day, I just felt “led” to go and see her. As I entered her room, her eyes were closed and her mouth open, breathing was not easy. She saw me though, and said, “Oh, it’s my Cindy. She’s come, now I can die.” She wanted me to sing for her. So I did. There is a bond that can exist between the shepherd and sheep of a small church that so mirrors the relationship of our Shepherd to His sheep- it’s really the way it’s supposed to be.
    I LOVE these precious sheep the Lord has given to my husband and I. Every little spiritual victory we celebrate (and those victories are not asked on denominational questionnaires)…but they’re huge in the lives of the people.
    Yes, it’s the people. Period.

  5. I agree, it’s not about numbers, nor is it about bigger buildings, fancier programs, or competing with other churches – and it’s certainly not about drawing people from one church to another. But it IS about making disciples – preferably out of people who weren’t even Christians before. And I passionately want to do that, and do it together with my small church. And of course, part of making a disciple is integrating them into a church. I think we pastors need to communicate that difference very clearly to the church. Yes, we do want to make disciples, and in the process we should get bigger. But no matter what happens, we want to love God and each other with all our hearts.

Leave a Comment

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