Why The Church Must Embrace Its “Long Tail” Of Small Congregations

Small churches are the engine that drives the body of Christ around the world. It’s not that big churches don’t play an important role. They certainly do. But the role of small churches can’t be denied. Small churches are the Long Tail in the body of Christ.

Small churches are the engine that drives the body of Christ around the world.

It’s not that big churches don’t play an important role. They certainly do. But the role of small churches can’t be denied.

Small churches are the Long Tail in the body of Christ.

What Is The Long Tail?

The Long Tail is an economic idea made popular in Wired magazine several years ago. It says that, while most people are enamored with products that sell in massive numbers, there’s just as big a market for the millions of niche products.

In this graph, the Big Spike on the left represents the top handful of well-known, huge-selling products. That’s what people tend to notice. But there aren’t a lot of products that sell that well. The total number of sales in the Long Tail to the right equals or exceeds the Big Spike.

The Implications Of The Long Tail

In their Long Tail article, Wired magazine tells us “The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than half of Amazon’s book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles. Consider the implication: If the Amazon statistics are any guide, the market for books that are not even sold in the average bookstore is larger than the market for those that are.”

This is a staggering reality. And it’s just as true in the church as it is in business – maybe more so.

While we notice and celebrate the small percentage of churches that are large and growing fast, there are just as many people worshiping and ministering in small churches! Click To Tweet

While we notice and celebrate the small percentage of churches that are large and growing fast, there are just as many people worshiping and ministering in small churches!

Not A New Phenomenon

YouTube, Amazon and Apple have built some of the biggest businesses on earth by paying close attention to their Long Tail. We notice the viral videos, bestselling books and $1,000+ phones, but they know there’s as much of an audience for their huge catalog of small items (homemade videos, self-published books and iTunes songs) as there is for the larger items.

While the name Long Tail may be new, the concept isn’t. The Long Tail is the way the church has always done ministry since well before the business world discovered it. As seen in the graph below, the church has always thrived on the massive number of small churches ministering to millions of people.

Unfortunately, just like many people ignore small businesses in favor of massive corporations, too much of our current church leadership teaching does the same – we ignore, and often belittle the millions of people in small churches in favor of the big ones.

But the church has always been at its most effective when it honors both small and large congregations – not one to the exclusion of the other.

Recognize And Resource The Long Tail

Small churches are the essential Long Tail of the body of Christ. We’re just as needed as our big church counterparts in the Big Spike.

Unfortunately, we’re not often recognized for the value we bring.

It’s time for that to change. Along with big churches, the Long Tail of small churches needs to be recognized, embraced, celebrated and resourced.

(Photo by HalGatewood.com | Unsplash)

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