Called To Pastoral Ministry? Prepare To Pastor A Small Church

Virtually every lead pastor will pastor a small church. At least for a while. Usually longer than we expect. Let's do it well.

Three facts sit atop my list of things I wish someone had told me in Bible college.

FACT #1: Most churches will never be larger than 250 people.

FACT #2: Virtually all 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.

Seriously, take a look at the class schedules for any ministry training school or seminary. How many of them are telling their ministerial students any of these realities, let alone teaching them the skills needed to pastor a small church?


I was taught how to break the 200 barrier. But 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.

FACT #1: Most Of Us Will Never Pastor A Big Church

How do I know this? Because 90 percent of the churches in the world have less than 250 people in them. Whether the church in general is doing well or poorly, 90 percent of congregations around the world have fewer than 250 people in regular attendance. (And well over half are under 100.)

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

Instead, we pump them up with big church principles and expectations, most of which apply in fewer than ten percent of the churches in existence. Then we wonder why so many pastors leave ministry burnt out and disillusioned, with damaged churches in their wake.

Most lead pastors will do most of our ministry in small churches, because 90 percent 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 percent of the ministry they’ll be doing.

FACT #2: Virtually All of Us Will Pastor A Small Church For Some Time

This has been the reality of the church for 2,000 years and counting.

As a pastor, you will spend at least some time leading a small church.

Even if you expect to build a church to mega-size, the irrefutable fact is that 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 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 learn how to do it well?

Plus (and I know this will sound like lack of faith to some people, but here I go anyway), what if your mega-plans for megachurch growth don’t pan out that way? It doesn’t for 80-90 percent 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 ministry are different than our plans? What if he wants to use us in the service of a smaller congregation for most, if not all of our ministry years?

Can we be okay accepting God’s will, if that’s what his will is? And if a lifetime of small church ministry is possible, even likely, shouldn’t we spend some of our ministry training time preparing for it?

FACT #3: You Can Pastor A Small Church Well, Without Settling For Less

Recognizing the universality of small church ministry 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 small churches because they’re God’s idea, not our failure. Instead of making pastors feel guilty that they didn’t “make it” when they’re pastoring 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.

(Photo by Drew Coffman | Flickr)

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