Ministry Reality Check: We’re All Gonna Pastor a Small Church

To Do 200cThree facts sit atop my “things I wish someone had told me in bible college” list.

Fact #1: 80-90% of pastoral ministry students will never pastor a church larger than 250 people.

Fact #2: 99.9% of us will pastor a Small Church for at least some time in our ministry.

Fact #3: You can pastor a Small Church well, without settling for less.

I was taught over and over how to break the 200 barrier. Yet I was never taught how to pastor a church under 200. And I was never told that this would likely be the way I’d spend most, if not all my ministry years.

And we’re still doing it. Teaching ministry students how to get through 200 without teaching them how to do it well under 200. Isn’t that just a little cart-before-the-horse-ish?

Let’s take a look at these points, one at a time.

For a video version of these principles, watch Thinking Like a Great Small Church – Part 1

1. Most of Us Will Never Pastor a Big Church

How do I know this? Because 90% of the churches in the world have less than 200 people in them. Even in the developed world, 90% of churches have less than 250-300.

When is someone going to break this news to our pastoral ministry students and church planters?

Instead, we pump them up with big church principles, most of which are only applicable to 10% of the churches in existence. Then we wonder why so many pastors burn out in ministry, leaving damaged churches in their wake.

Most lead pastors will spend the majority of their ministry in Small Churches because 90% of churches are small.

Certainly some of those churches will grow. But the undeniable, statistical fact is that most of them will stay small. So why are we teaching ministry students big church skills, almost exclusively? Most of those skills will never apply to 90% of the ministry they’ll be doing.


2. All of Us Will Pastor a Small Church at Some Time 

Unless you’re an associate pastor, 99.9% of pastors will spend at least some time pastoring a Small Church.

If you’re a ministry student or beginning church planter, I know you’re convinced you’ll be the exception to this rule. I knew I would be. But, even if you expect to build a church to mega-size, the absolutely irrefutable fact is that unless your father currently pastors a megachurch, no one will ask you to pastor a megachurch as your first position in ministry.

Maybe you’ll go to an existing Small Church and it will grow to mega. Maybe you’ll be a church planter and oversee its growth to become the next big thing. But even if you do, here’s an undeniable reality.

Before it becomes big, it will be small.

So, since every pastor will lead a Small Church for at least some time in their ministry, shouldn’t we be teaching how to do it well?

Plus… and I know this will sound like lack of faith to some people… but … what if the mega-plans for megachurch growth don’t pan out that way? It doesn’t for 80-90% of us.

I know we’re all convinced we’re great speakers and leaders. We have revolutionary ideas no one has ever heard of before. We have faith to move mountains.

But what if…?

What if God’s plans for our great gifts of teaching, leading, innovation and faith are different than our plans? What if he wants us to use them in the service of a smaller congregation for most, if not all of our ministry years?

Can we be OK accepting God’s will, if that’s what his will is? And if a lifetime of Small Church ministry is possible, let alone likely, shouldn’t we spend some of our ministry training time preparing for it?

Speaking of which…


3. How to Pastor an Innovative Small Church

Check the class schedules for any 10 ministry training schools or seminaries you choose. How many classes include teaching on the skills needed to pastor a Small Church?


Then check upcoming ministry conferences for the same thing. Any different results?

Now go to your bookshelf and eReader. How many of the pastoral ministry books you own teach Small Church pastoring principles? Until I wrote The Grasshopper Myth, there wasn’t one on my bookshelf.

Thirty years of my ministry. Hundreds of books bought, read and studied. But not one book on how to do the job God called me to do. That’s why I used the preface of The Grasshopper Myth to tell readers this was the book I wish someone else had written for me.

We haven’t done this aspect of ministry training well. It’s time for that to change.

If you’re a seasoned minister like me, let’s help the upcoming generation of pastors. Let’s give them what no one gave us. We can start by being honest with them about the type of ministry most of them will have.

And no, this is not a defeatist attitude. Far from it. When you recognize, embrace and passionately fulfill God’s call on your life to pastor a Small Church, you will find it to be a profound privilege and blessing. To you, to the people you pastor and to the community your church ministers in.

It’s not settling
It’s not missing out
It’s not “less than…”
If you don’t let it be.

Let’s stop acting like we’re embarrassed by all the Small Churches in the world. Maybe there are so many of them because Small Churches are God’s idea – not our failure. Instead of making pastors feel guilty that they didn’t “make it” when they pastor a Small Church, let’s help them do it well – and passionately.

It’s time to embrace the wonder of the ministry God has called most of us to do.


So what do you think? Were you ever told about the likelihood of pastoring a Small Church when you received your ministry training?

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(To Do List photo from Courtney Dirks • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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4 thoughts on “Ministry Reality Check: We’re All Gonna Pastor a Small Church”

  1. “And no, this is not a defeatist attitude. Far from it. When you recognize, embrace and passionately fulfill God’s call on your life to pastor a Small Church, you will find it to be a profound privilege and blessing. To you, to the people you pastor and to the community your church ministers in.”

    This is what I have had to do recently. And I couldn’t have done it without the insights of this blog and the Grasshopper Myth.
    It is cool finally getting comfortable in where I am that God has placed me. I guess this is that contentment ting I’ve read about somewhere…

    (read with British accent)
    Please Sir, can I have some more!

  2. a few years ago i came across this excellent book that is part of a three part series of books dealing with small church ministry. It is called Shepherding the Small church, by Glenn Daman and is publised b y Kregel.

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