7 Dangers Of Romanticizing The Small Church

If the first job of leadership is to define reality, belittling small churches is not realistic. Neither is idealizing or romanticizing them. We must see them accurately so we can serve and lead them well.

Small churches are the most common, normative, resilient, effective, and multipliable facet of the gathered body of Christ.

In my previous article, If Small Churches Are Essential, Why Are We Not Fulfilling Our Potential? I wrote about the central role that smaller congregations play in the body of Christ, alongside our big-church friends.

However, we need to be careful not to swing the pendulum so far that we start idealizing, romanticizing or even idolizing the small church. Here are 7 reasons why:

1. It’s Inaccurate

We love the idea of the little white chapel on the hill where everything is right with the world.

That may look nice in a painting, but it’s not realistic. It never has been.

There has never been an ideal church. Including in the first century. If the early church had been perfect, most of the New Testament letters that we honor so much (and justifiably so) would have never been written. Click To Tweet

There has never been an ideal church. Including in the first century. If the early church had been perfect, most of the New Testament letters that we honor so much (and justifiably so) would have never been written.

2. It’s A Fantasy

Living in the fantasy world of the ideal church is dangerous.

When we romanticize the small church, or any church, we stop being clear-eyed about its true nature. Then we stop seeing their inevitable problems and are more likely to be overwhelmed and hurt when problems arise – which they always do.

It’s much better to have an accurate understanding of the blessings and challenges of the church than to wade in naively only to be surprised when normal human problems inevitably pop up.

3. It Makes It Harder To Get Necessary Resources

Idealizing small churches leads to ignorance about the real-world challenges we face. This harmful disconnect is a huge reason why it’s so hard to find the real-world, boots-on-the-ground assistance we need.

As I mentioned in my previous article, we need more resources that are small-church-specific. It’s not possible to adapt most current church resources to the typical-size church.

We need more resources that are small-church-specific. It’s not possible to adapt most current church resources to the typical-size church. Click To Tweet

Some of the reason for that is a devaluing of the small church experience, some is straight-up ignorance about small church realities, but much of it can be attributed to an idealization of the small church experience.

4. It’s Condescending

You know that look you give a little kid when they try to do something to help around the house, even though you know you’ll have to clean up their mess later?

Many attempts to idealize smaller congregations feel like that.

Small churches are not lesser versions of larger churches. We’re fully-functioning, highly-contributing, disciple-making members of the body of Christ.

5. It Attracts The “Wrong” Pastors

There are no wrong pastors.

But there’s often the wrong fit for the church.

This happens when a new pastor walks into a smaller congregation with rose-tinted glasses.

Small churches need pastors who are loving and kind, but also energetic, realistic, and adept at problem-solving. But most small churches – especially in rural areas – tend to attract pastors who are either 1) young and energetic but naïve, or 2) older and experienced, but ready to retire.

This leads to . . .

6. It Speeds Up The Pastoral Change Cycle

A bad match-up of pastor-to-congregation tends to be short-lived, which often starts a series of short-term pastorates.

So we have a subset of small churches who go year-after-year, even decade-after-decade, in a constant cycle of pastoral turnover.

There may be no more certain way to guarantee a church’s slide into permanent mediocrity than a constant change of pastoral leadership.

7. It Makes Better Small Church Ministry Harder

Small churches are not ideal.

But they are no more problematic than our big church counterparts.

The challenges of the small church are real, but they can be overcome if they’re seen accurately and addressed properly.

The challenges of the small church are real, but they can be overcome if they’re seen accurately and addressed properly. Click To Tweet

But if we start with a romanticized view of them, it’s impossible to make the needed improvements. After all, how can you improve on what’s already ideal?

Let’s Get This Right

Small churches have a lot to offer. To our communities, their congregations, the pastors who serve them, and the entire body of Christ.

It’s been said that the first job of leadership is to define reality.

Demonizing small churches is not realistic. Neither is idealizing or romanticizing them.

Instead, let’s see them for what they really are. Let’s serve and lead them well.

Then stand back and see what God can do through them – and us.


(Photo by Ellie Adams | Unsplash)

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