Where Are All the Small Church Experts?

rusty lockQuick quiz – name an expert on big churches or church growth.

There are probably several that come to mind immediately, right? There are plenty of well-known authors, speakers and academics, some of whom are pastors themselves.

Now name an expert on Small Churches…

I’m waiting…

If you can think of one, it was probably your personal ministry mentor. If so, thank God you have one. Most don’t.

I expect most pastors can’t name anyone. There certainly aren’t any that are commonly known.

Why? Here’s what I’ve come to believe.


There Aren’t Any Small Church Experts

There are plenty of Small Church pastors. But many of us don’t even feel like we’re experts about our own congregations.

There are also people who have studied and written about Small Churches. I’m one of them. But there are very few of us. (By the way, if you named me as an expert, thank you, but I have way more questions than answers. Keep looking.)

80% of the churches in the world are small. Hundreds of millions of people attend them. Yet Small Churches are one of the least studied and most misunderstood aspects of everyday human life and behavior. There is more curiosity, study, conversation and expertise about virtually any other area of life than there is about Small Churches.

Even basic questions like “how many Small Churches are there in the world? in our country?” or simply “What even constitutes a Small Church?” have nothing but more questions following them.

We know a lot about megachurches and the megachurch movement. The books and studies on that subject literally fill libraries.

Why are there no Small Church experts?

Here are a handful of reasons I’ve considered. Feel free to add your own. Or to disagree with these.


There Are No Small Church Experts Because…

  • Those who are doing it, don’t have much time to teach about it.
  • Many consider a Small Church to be a failed big church. Who wants to be an expert on that?
  • Studies of megachurches are usually about systems and leaders. A study of Small Churches would have to include a focus on the people who attend. Studying people is harder than studying systems and procedures.
  • Studies need data. Small Churches are so diverse and widespread that data would be hard, if not impossible to find, collate and assess.


What do you think? Do you know of anyone you’d consider to be a Small Church expert?

If not, why not?

And, maybe most importantly, does it matter?


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9 thoughts on “Where Are All the Small Church Experts?”

  1. Hey Karl… Love your blogs and site. Reading this blog the person that came to mind is Eugene Peterson. I don’t know if he’s an expert, but I read a book of his years ago that keeps kicking my butt (sorry I can’t remember the name of it…or maybe that proves your point). A Question he asked was: “If God called you to pastor a church of 200, would you do it?”. I’ll try to find the name of the book for you. He also champions the small church with us. Keep writing.

    1. Thanks Dave,

      I’d love to know what book that was so I can read it and pass any info from it on to others. I like Peterson’s writing, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he might be one of the possible “experts” we’re wondering about.

      I’ve heard good reviews from friends about Peterson’s “The Pastor: A Memoir”. Could that be the book you’re referring to?

      The quick answer that came to my mind in response to his question “If God called you to pastor a church of 200, would you do it?” was that I know a lot of pastors who would LOVE it if their church grew to 200. It’s interesting that we consider 200 to be so small, but 80% of the churches in the world are smaller than that.

      1. I believe the the book you mention is the book. I will check to make sure. The question he asks I don’t think is really about the number, but more about our calling to faithfully pastor those God has called us to. .. And it has challenged me . Because I have allowed the size of my church to determine my success.
        I appreciate your site, it continually challenges me to reevaluate my values and goals.

  2. Several names come to mind: Dave Jacobs, Chuck Warnock, Shannon O’Dell among others. I have a small church site where I blog about those kind of issues but like you I don’t know that I would call myself an expert.
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

    1. Terry, I’ve read good things from all those guys, too. In fact, I just heard back from a DM I sent to Dave Jacobs. And I put a link on his Small Church Pastor Facebook page today.

      But my guess is they’d all say what you and I say. We’re not experts. And, as I mentioned in the post, none of them are widely known in the church world (not that any of us feel the need to be well-known. This is the wrooong field to be in if you want to be famous, that’s for sure).

      Some are coaches, some are commenters and some are questioners. And I’m still very much the newbie in the bunch. But it is nice to start linking up with people like you who have the same goal in mind – to do what we can to help some of the hardest-working people we know.

  3. Small church pastor Steve Willis has written a fine book entitled Imagining the Small Church (Alban, 2012). One thing he does is to use Wendell Berry’s concept of “central culture” vs. “peripheral culture” to highlight the difference between small church culture and large church culture, and why each is needed in the body of Christ.

    Another expert is Tony Pappas who served a small congregation for many years, and who is now a general minister for one of the American Baptist associations in New England. He’s written great stuff, such as Entering the World of the Small Church, a classic, also from Alban.

    You can go to my blog, The Mustard Seed Journal, (maryharristodd.wordpress.com) and click on the resources tab for a bibliography of what I think are the best books out there on small church ministry. You will see more experts’ names there.

    Thanks so much for your work and your site!

    1. Hi Mary,

      Thanks for your contribution – both to this blog and to this subject in general. I’ve just taken a look at your site and like what I see. I’ll be reading more.

      I’ve read Steve Willis’ book, and have commented on it in this post. http://newsmallchurch.com/alone-in-a-crowd-the-high-price-of-big-church/ I agree that Willis’ take on central and peripheral cultures is very valuable.

      I’ve read and appreciated Tony Pappas’ work, too. As a newcomer to this arena, I’m finding more people writing on the subject. My hope is to add a section to my site, much like you have on yours, where I can also refer people to other great resources.

      The challenge with Small Church “expertise” is twofold: 1. The people doing it, studying it and writing on it haven’t been appreciated in the mainstream of church leadership culture, which needs to change, and 2. Truly becoming an “expert” on something as diverse as the Small Church may be impossible.

      I’m grateful to find people like you who are taking a stab at it. Maybe none of us will ever be an “expert” at this, but together we can help each other and we might be able provide something resembling expertise to help others.

  4. The best expertise I’ve found is within the Rural Home Missionary Association. While I’m sure there are healthy small churches in urban/suburban locations, rural America lends itself to the smaller church. My wife and I planted a church in a community of 1100, 25 miles from the ‘larger’ community of 8000, and 65 miles from the closest identified metro area. Today we have a congregation of about 150 and average attendance of 100 or so. I spent several years being very frustrated until I attended a RHMA conference and heard others describing exactly what I was experiencing and telling me it was normal and OK.

    1. Thanks for the reference, Ken. I’ll check them out. I wrote this post over a year ago, when I was just starting to write on this subject. In the past year or so, I’ve been made aware of several people and groups doing great work with and for Small Churches. But I’m always looking for more.

      And God bless you and your church. It sounds like you’re doing great work!

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