Small Churches Are Not a Problem, a Virtue or an Excuse

Jesus Lives 200cI refuse to idealize Small Churches.

There’s not an ounce of nostalgia in me for some long-lost, non-existent, good-old-days when everyone attended a little white chapel and all was right with the world.

In fact, one of the unwritten rules we follow regarding the photos for is No Little White Chapels Allowed. (I guess it’s not unwritten any more.)

If your church building is a little white chapel, please don’t be offended. I don’t have an issue with your building. My problem is with the almost universal preconception that valuing Small Churches means settling for a quaint, nostalgic, do-nothing attitude. And that is exemplified in a lot of people’s minds by The Little White Chapel.

Seriously, how many times have we seen an article about Small Churches with that as the go-to image? It’s even been connected to my articles when they’ve been reprinted on other websites. And I don’t blame them for it – when you type “Small Church” into your Google Images search bar, Little White Chapels come up by the hundreds. (Resist the temptation to do that right now. I know you want to.)

I won’t use The Little White Chapel on my website because…

  • It’s cliché
  • It’s theologically problematic (the church isn’t the building)
  • But mostly because it sends the wrong message as to what is all about

So what are we about?

Today I’ll answer that question by telling you three things that we’re NOT about. Small Churches are not a Problem, we’re not a Virtue and we’re not an Excuse. 


1. Small Churches Are Not a Problem

I won’t say too much about this right now because I’ve dealt with this idea a lot on this site, already. You can click on any of the articles here to read more.

Why Are There So Many Small Churches? (Some Assumptions & Realities)
The Essential First Step to Having a Healthy Small Church
Does Jesus Want Every Church to Be a Big Church?

For now, I’ll say that one of the primary missions of this website is to rid everyone, starting with my fellow Small Church pastors, of the idea that Small Churches are a problem to be fixed.


2. Small Churches Are Not a Virtue

Big churches aren’t better than Small Churches, but Small Churches aren’t better than big churches, either.

  • Small Churches are not the best way to do church – we’re just the most common way
  • We are not closer to the over-idealized New Testament church than our big church counterparts
  • We are not against big churches

There’s nothing holy about smallness.

While I believe that Small Churches will play a more visible role in the future growth of the church, I don’t believe we will replace big- or megachurches. Nor should we.

It’s not about big or small. It’s about big and small.

Small Churches aren’t better than big churches. But the entire church is better with us than without us.


3. Small Churches Are Not an Excuse

Being small is not an excuse to do church poorly. While many Small Churches may not be able to afford a lot of things we’d love to have, like the latest technology, a permanent building or even a salary for the pastor, we will not allow any of that to stop us from being everything Jesus is calling us to be.

We will no longer accept smallness as an excuse.

  • Just because we don’t have a kickin’ worship band does not mean we’ll settle for passionless worship
  • Lack of sermon prep time will not mean bad theology or boring preaching
  • Minimal finances will not stop us from being generous
  • Not having professionally-made graphics, flyers and banners won’t stop us from inviting our friends to church
  • We will not wait until we grow to do what Jesus is calling us to do right here, right now

A local church doesn’t need to be big to do the Jesus stuff well.

And the Jesus stuff is the only stuff that matters anyway.


So what do you think? Have you viewed Small Churches as a problem, a virtue, or an excuse? Which one is your biggest challenge to overcome?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Jesus Lives photo from electricnerve • Flickr • Creative Commons)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

12 thoughts on “Small Churches Are Not a Problem, a Virtue or an Excuse”

  1. Excellent! You’ve mentioned the 200 number mark before, but with 20 spiritually healthy people, we’ve managed to plant, nurture, train and mentor four small churches in Kenya beside our congregation and launching five viable ministries in the states out of our congregation. We support the local clinic that offers help for crisis pregnancies that does not include abortion, and have a Bible school and do it all with an attitude of excellence. I love that being small is not an excuse.

  2. Pastor Scott Allen

    I have the blessing of pastoring a church of a one hundred fifty people. In Canada that is considered doing well. We have all the techno stuff, great worship. But two weeks ago while in Jasper Alberta in the Rockies we attempted a small church of 20 some people. The worship consisted of a guitar and the Pastor sang and led with his wife. It was absolutely awesome, the presence of God and the heart for worship came through in a dynamic way. the pastor has laboured there for 15 years, and to him I say “God bless you” While I am blessed with a larger church, the same Spirit of God was in that church of 20 some people. It was refreshing and wonderful

    1. That experience happens in hundreds of thousands of churches all around the world every Sunday. Their stories aren’t told often enough. Thanks for telling their story to us.

  3. How about this? I pastor a church that averages 25. we could seat 75 comfortably. It sometimes feels hard to invite people because it feels so empty is that an excuse?

  4. Without knowing you or your situation, I wouldn’t categorize it in any way. But I would offer a suggestion.

    I have a friend who had that situation for years. Same size building and same size congregation. So he brought in coffee tables, turned down the lights and turned it into a coffee house feel. Then he preached shorter, more conversational messages and gave people the chance to search the scriptures around their tables and talk about it together. It made the number of people in the room feel right for the room instead of too small for the room.

    I’m not suggesting you do that scenario – you need to do what’s right for you. But his story might give you an idea abut how you could change your room to make it feel right for the number of people you have in it.

    I address this issue a bit in point #2 of today’s post, too. If you haven’t read it yet, check out this link.

    I hope this helps.

  5. Karl I greatly appreciate following your content; you truly get it. I’ve always pastored churches less than 100 but 9 years ago I resigned one of those churches to go bi-vocational and start from scratch in London, Ontario Canada; no building, no people, no money (and often feeling like no sense either). Our focus has always been to people with little to no church culture experience. Over the years we’ve seen many people come and go for a variety of reasons but mostly because life had taken them elsewhere (and a few drama Llamas that we were thankful to see move on). Our church community has always remained tiny; 15-20 people mostly between the ages of 20-30 and a couple of us older boomer-types in the mix. We gather in my home and occasionally renting school gyms and park picnic sites as finances allow for community outreach activities. I don’t see us as a house church but a tread-size budget limits us from renting community space on a regular basis. Only a few of us are believers while the rest remain not yet followers.

    The challenge for me is to balance evangelism and discipleship as well as not becoming constantly discouraged by the bigger, better, more mentality of what seems to me a consumerist Christianity. I have to always remind myself and our group that we can’t even begin to compete with the church down the street and we don’t have to. Instead we try to focus on what makes us different rather than better.

    Currently we’re engaged in a Visioning 2014 process as a church community; seeking to discover God’s preferred future for our church community. There’s no shortage of frustration and discouragement and sometimes I feel like I could have a word with Paul about his “don’t get weary in well doing” statement. Yet we keep plugging along; seeking to do what we can to bring God’s kingdom to our tiny piece of the planet. Your biblically informed wisdom and insights inspire and challenge me along the way. Thanks for investing yourself into the lives and ministries of pastors like me.

  6. Now then, to become serious. You make an excellent point. One which has been made before, will be made again, and should be printed in every small church newsletter. I spent 19 years serving small churches in rural Nebraska. Many are in areas experiencing dramatic and prolonged population decline. Twenty-two Nebraska counties lost over 60% of their population between 1900 and 2010. In those areas grief is the dominant and driving emotion. In many cases the churches, along with the remaining residents, have simply given up. Challenging them to seek to be healthy vibrant churches despite their losses was a difficult, never ending challenge.

  7. Reposted this on Small Church Tools facebook page. Hope that’s OK even though the drawing there is a little white chapel lol!
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

  8. Pingback: Here's an Idea, What If We Left "Church Growth" to God?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *