My “Final Word” on Small Churches

cover square 200cIt looks like Small Churches really are becoming a big deal.

The Spring 2013 issue of Enrichment Journal is all about the big impact of Small Churches. Way to go, guys! There aren’t many magazines that would take an entire issue to do that.

The last page of each issue is called the “Final Word”, and it’s usually reserved for the editor. For this issue, they gave me the “Final Word” on Small Churches.

That’s prime real estate in any magazine. I’m grateful to editor George P. Wood for trusting me with it.

The article they used was excerpted from The Grasshopper Myth, Chapter 9 “An Open Letter – To My Fellow Small Church Pastors.” They couldn’t use the entire chapter because of space, so they kept what would fit and made some additional edits to adapt it to the framework of the magazine.

Thankfully, a blog isn’t hampered by the space limitations that the editor of a printed magazine has to contend with.

 

My Director’s Cut

You know how a movie will sometimes issue a “Director’s Cut” on DVD? It’s usually the original movie, with a few extra scenes that had to be left on the cutting room floor for the theatrical release because of time limitations.

That’s what this post is. My Director’s Cut.

The entire chapter, for those who’d like a little more. Straight from the pages of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking that Divides Us.

 


 An Open Letter

To My Fellow Small Church Pastors,

You and I have an awesome responsibility.

God has entrusted into our care the most powerful force on earth – the Small Church. That may not feel true for you right now. It may never have felt true for you. Nevertheless it is true.

Let me prove it to you.

There are millions of us around the world. No matter how you tally the numbers, by even the most conservative estimates, more people have voluntarily placed their spiritual lives under our care than under the care of any other group of people on earth.

 

Over One Billion Served

Look at the raw numbers with me. By all accounts there are two to three billion people who call themselves Christians and attend a church on a regular basis. Let’s go with the lowest of those numbers – two billion people. Of those two billion-plus people, well over half of them voluntarily attend a local congregation of less than 350 people.

That’s over one billion people who choose to come to our churches.

If those numbers are true (and I assure you they are conservative), why do so many of us feel alone, frustrated, underachieving, even bitter instead of excited, empowered, vital and needed? And why is it likely that this is the first time in your life you’ve heard these facts about Small Church ministry?

 

What Have We Missed?

Part of the reason is because this is probably the first book you have read on the subject of pastoring that wasn’t written by a megachurch pastor or by a researcher whose main focus has been megachurches. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just the way it is.

I know your frustrations because I am one of you. For over 25 years I have been a Small Church pastor. 20 years and counting at the church I currently serve. My congregation has been as small as 35 and as large as 350. Currently it’s just over 200.

Another reason Small Church pastors feel frustrated is that we’ve been told for years that a successful church is always a numerically growing church. That, conversely, only numerically growing churches are considered successful. Many of us have believed it. I know I have.

Yet a further reason for our frustration is that when we look deep into our hearts, as hard as we work, as passionate as we feel or have felt about ministry, most of us know we can do better than we’ve done.

But it’s hard to do better when resources are limited, when difficult financial times hit people’s voluntary donations first, when most of us have to work another non-ministry job full-time just to pay our family’s (and the church’s) bills, and when we feel like nobody cares about any of that, including denominational representatives, ministerial conference organizers, church growth advocates, pastoral book authors and, maybe most of all, other Small Church pastors. Why aren’t we at least there for each other?

It’s time for that to change.

 

Equipped for a Great Work

Here are some more numbers. There are approximately 4,000 megachurches in the world providing the primary spiritual support for about 100 million people every week.

I stand in grateful awe of such ministry. Megachurch pastors have done, and continue to do a work for the kingdom of God that communities, cultures and nations should recognize and celebrate far more than they do.

Small Church pastors sometimes complain that megachurch pastors receive more credit than we do, but they also take an awful lot more heat than we do. On the weekend the Ted Haggard scandal broke, our church’s youth group happened to be hosting a youth drama team from his Colorado Springs church. That Sunday morning God gave us the sad privilege of mourning with those kids while national attention was focused like a laser on their pastor and his sins. We need to remember that the megachurch spotlight that we sometimes wish was focused on our successes goes destructively supernova on our failures and sins.

Megachurch pastors are often the church’s only face to much of the world. As fellow pastors we need to stand alongside them in our prayers. I personally want to say a huge “thank you” to those whose ministries I have personally benefited from, mostly through their books.

But, fellow Small Church pastors, the size of their task pales next to ours.

Again, run the numbers. Megachurch pastors oversee churches with weekly attendance figures of 2,000 to 20,000 to the largest congregation on earth with almost [gasp!] 1,000,000 congregants every week (Yoido Assembly of God in Seoul, South Korea). But it’s still about 100 million people in megachurches at the most, while Small Church pastors are responsible for one billion people at the least.

Did you get that? Small Churches minister to 10 times more people every week than megachurches do! Over one billion people! That’s more than any entire Christian denomination, including Catholics. More than all the Jews, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists on earth.

 

What Small Can Do

Precisely because they are scattered in small groups across the face of the earth instead of being clumped together in larger quantities, Small Churches have immediate access to communities, families and individuals, making them the largest, most readily deployable force for spiritual transformation, emotional encouragement and material sustenance that the world has ever seen. It’s time to turn them loose! Small Church pastors, our fingers are on the trigger. We can withhold or release this redemptive power on a world that has never needed us more than it needs us now.

This is an awesome and sacred responsibility.

I fear we have not met that responsibility well.

We need to do better. We can do better. With God’s help we will do better.

No more feeling guilty that my church attendance isn’t growing. No more working outside my primary gifting to do things that I and my church were never called to do. No more feeling jealous of the church down the street or trying to come up with some theological justification to despise the preacher on TV.

Instead, let’s embrace who we are. Let’s do what God is calling us to do. Let’s pastor the church we’ve got, not the one we wish we had. When we do that, let the world stand and watch in amazement at what an army of Small Churches and the more than one billion people in them can do to bring the healing power of Christ to a hurting world.

 

So what do you think? Have you ever considered that Small Churches have that kind of worldwide impact?

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