Is a Successful Small Church an Oxymoron?

OxymoronIs the term “Successful Small Church” an oxymoron? You know, like

  • Jumbo shrimp
  • Deafening silence
  • Awfully good
  • Genuine imitation
  • Icy hot
  • Open secret
  • Living dead
  • Clean dirt
  • Alone together

Or, more sarcastically,

  • Microsoft Works
  • Smart bombs
  • Educational television

When I first considered that question as a basis for a blog post, I knew what my answer was going to be.

“No! Of course not!”

Then I looked up the definition and … uh oh … everything changed. 

Oxymoron: a figure of speech that juxtaposes elements that appear to be contradictory. (emphasis mine)

So, Successful Small Church is an oxymoron. Not because “successful” and “Small Church” are contradictory. But because of those pesky words “appear to be” in the definition.


Objects in Mirror Aren’t As Insignificant They Appear

“Successful” and “small” are not actually contradictory words. But we’ve created a culture in which they “appear to be” contradictory to many people.
We’ve convinced ourselves that successful equals big. So small must equal failure. Therefore, anytime you have “small” and “successful” in the same phrase – voila! Instant oxymoron.

But one of the goals Jesus came to accomplish was to redefine success.

All oxymorons. All true.


What Is Success?

If we hope to overcome the perception that Successful Small Church is an oxymoron, we have to redefine success the way Jesus did.

And that starts by answering the question in the title with another question. Namely, “what is a successful church?”

The answer to that question is not found in buildings, budgets or butts in the seats. It’s found in the simple, two-part formula for success laid out by Jesus himself. The Great Commandment and Great Commission.

Are we loving God? Loving each other? Making disciples? Sharing our faith? Any church that’s spending its time doing that instead of obsessing over budgets, building projects, making a name for the pastor, petty infighting and the like, is a successful church. No matter how big or small it is.


More Successful Small Churches, Please

Successful Small Church may be an oxymoron to some. But it’s not a contradiction.

There are millions of successful Small Churches all over the world. Including the wonderful, dedicated people I’m privileged to pastor. Hopefully your church is one, too. If it isn’t, it can be.

Your church doesn’t need to be bigger to be successful. Or have more money. Or a bigger building – or any building.

Your church just needs to start doing what so many successful churches of all sizes are already doing. The Jesus stuff.

In every corner of the globe, alongside well-known, successful and effective big churches, you’ll find hundreds of thousands of virtually unknown successful and effective Small Churches. People who gather to worship Jesus, care for each other, share the good news of grace and hope, restore broken lives, heal shattered marriages, rebuild crumbling neighborhoods and more.

Your church can be one of them.

  • Successful
  • Small
  • Church

Yes, they go together. They’re everywhere.

And we need more of them. A lot more.


So what do you think? What can we do overcome the perception that Small Churches can’t be considered successful?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!

Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Jumbo Fried Shrimp Sign photo from Daniel X. O’Neil • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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5 thoughts on “Is a Successful Small Church an Oxymoron?”

  1. Thank You Karl!
    Over a year ago you sparked an idea that is often expressed out loud in our church.
    “Small is BIG ! ! !”
    Because we’re small we all GET to function as a team
    Because we’re small, Your Idea is considered Your Opportunity… “If it’s going to be it’s up me
    Because we’re small we can’t afford to be consumers of the goods and services of the church
    Because we’re small we’re all leaders – Everyone in our church is, “On Staff !”

  2. Pingback: If You’re Not Counting Numbers, How Do You Know Your Church Is Healthy? Here Are 23 Ways - ChurchPlants

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