Life and ministry are changing – fast.
This is also true when we’re creating church leadership resources for conferences, seminars and webinars. And getting the “right people” on that church leadership conference bus means having at least one seat for a small-church pastor.
The Unspoken Assumption
When most church conferences are designed, there’s often an assumption that the big-church pastors in key positions can also speak to small-church issues because, after all, they used to pastor a small church. And they must have been very good at it because the church grew very large.
I’m grateful for the growth of the churches they serve, of course. But having pastored a small church 10, 20 or 30 years ago is not the same as pastoring a small church currently.
If you haven’t pastored a small church for a decade, your solutions will be based on old, outdated assumptions – at least as old as the decade you’ve been out of small-church ministry. And a decade in church leadership is a much longer time than it used to be.
We know this in other fields, but we seem to forget or ignore this when it comes to small-church leadership.
For instance, if you’re a denominational official who regularly visits the small churches in your circle (as many of my friends do), you will have a birds-eye view that’s very helpful. But it’s not the same as the boots-on-the-ground perspective of someone who’s currently in a long-term small-church pastorate.
Without small-church input . . .
- You won’t have a clear picture of small-church problems
- You won’t be up to speed on small-church changes
- Your solutions might not be as applicable for most churches as you think they are
- Even your good ideas might not be accepted
Thankfully, the solution is simple.
Every church leadership organization needs to have at least one permanent seat at the table for someone who is currently serving in a small church for the long haul.
With Small Church Input . . .
1. You’ll Hear From The Rest Of Us
There’s no single pastor who can represent all small churches. There’s far too much variety for that. But there are many characteristics that small churches hold in common. You’ll never get a sense of that without at least one of us on the bus.
We can’t speak for all small churches, of course, but we’re more likely to know what our peers need, what they can offer, and how to anticipate their reactions.
2. You’ll Get Up-To-Date, Hands-On Intel
Years ago, I worked with a group of ethnic churches filled with first- and second-generation North American immigrants from an oppressed European country. They were some of the most loving, kind, godly people I’ve ever met, but they engaged in the pettiest arguments over obscure church practices and ceremonies from the old country.
When I had the chance to travel to their home country I expected to see these old practices and ceremonies being played out, but I didn’t. Those old-world practices had been abandoned in their home country for at least a generation or two. The immigrants had a false picture of their homeland frozen in their mind because they had been disconnected from it for so long that they weren’t aware of the changes.
This is what often happens when people in big churches and parachurch ministries offer solutions to present-day small churches. They may think they have the answers because they used to serve in one, but their picture is usually frozen in time from a bygone era that the rest of us have moved on from.
Having at least one small-church pastor on your church conference team from start to finish helps you stay up to date.
3. You’ll Reach More Churches with Better Information
People who design church conferences, write church leadership books, and create other resources want to help as many churches as possible.
But you’ll miss out on helping the vast majority of us if no one in the room is sitting where 90 percent of churches and pastors are sitting.
Having at least one small-church representative on your team gives you a much higher likelihood of finding and offering better information to everyone you want to help.
4. The Silent Majority Will Feel Seen and Heard
Most of the time, when a speaker is introduced at a church leadership conference, their bio includes how big and fast their church grew. When that happens, we’re happy for them and grateful for the blessing to the kingdom of God. But it also puts up a wall.
Immediately, the speaker feels less relatable to most of us. No matter how small the church was when they started, there’s a distance now. And when those are about the only people we’re hearing from, the distance feels insurmountable.
On the other hand, when I introduce a talk with my usual opening line of “Hi I’m Karl, and I’m a small-church pastor” my fellow small-church pastors immediately feel heard and seen. And they’re more open to hear, not just what I have to say, but what the other speakers are saying as well.
No one wants to be condescended to. And most speakers don’t want to come across as condescending.
Hearing from someone who’s in the trenches with us changes that dynamic.
Why This Matters
Small-church pastors are hungry to learn and grow. We want to glean everything we can from our big-church friends. But there also has to be an opportunity for small churches to learn from each other, and for our big church friends to learn from small churches, too.
It starts with a seat at the table and a timeslot on the main stage – for everyone.
For more on this subject, listen to my interview with Hatt Henslee on Episode 13 of the “Can This Work In A Small Church?” podcast.
And check out the following:
- 9 Ways Church Leadership Conferences Can Attract More Small Church Pastors
- Small Church Conferences: with Dale Sellers, Chris Vitarelli, Carl & Kalani Culley (Podcast Ep 5)
(Photo by Alex Motoc | Unsplash)