“Why do you want churches to be small?”
I hear that question a lot.
My answer? I don’t want churches to be small. I want small churches to thrive!
Wanting churches to be small is like wanting Hawaii to be sunny or vegetables to be nutritious. We don’t need to want it. That’s their normal state of being.
So Many Small Churches!
Like it or not, churches tend to be small. Over 90 percent of the churches on earth are under 200 people. Over 80 percent are under 100. That’s a whole lot of small.
It’s always been that way. Even today, with the advent of megachurches, those percentages haven’t changed much.
That’s why I want to help small churches thrive. Because I want the millions of small churches in the world to be great.
Many of them already are, of course. But no matter how great any church is, it can always be greater. Healthier. Better. Whatever its size.
If we want small churches to be thriving churches, we need to acknowledge three basic truths:
Truth #1: Small Churches Can Thrive
A lot of people don’t realize this. Including small church pastors. We’ve become so obsessed with church growth that we’ve inadvertently sent the message to millions of prayerful, Godly, hardworking small church leaders that they can’t be a great church until they’re a big church.
That’s simply untrue.
I know because I’ve been in many thriving small churches. Including the one I’m blessed to serve.
If you serve a small church, don’t believe the lie that it can’t be a great church. Not only is it counterproductive, it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not knowing your small church can be a great church may be the main roadblock holding you back from being a great church right now. A church can’t be great if we don’t think it can be.
Instead, believe this truth – you don’t need to become big for your church to become great. It can be great now.
Truth #2: Thriving Small Churches Look Different Than Thriving Big Churches
One of the obstacles preventing many small churches from thriving is that so much of our pastoral training comes from a big church perspective. That’s not a bad thing. I’ve learned a lot from the conferences and books by the same well-known megachurch pastors you’ve learned from.
But when we pastor a small church, there’s only so much we can learn from those who lead big churches – even if they used to pastor a small church, which most of them have.
When I learn about pastoring from a megachurch pastor, I have to leave a lot on the cutting room floor. Typically, about one-third of what they say applies to me and my situation. Sometimes less.
So where do we get help for the rest of it? Small church leaders need to talk to each other.
I need to hear from pastors of other small churches that are doing great work for the kingdom of God. Then, I need to turn around and share what I’ve learned.
Truth #3: Many Thriving Churches Will Stay Small
This is a big truth that always receives a lot of negative feedback. So before you warm up your typing fingers to tell me “all healthy things grow!”, please realize that I know and agree with that truth wholeheartedly.
Here’s how I addressed the issue of inevitable growth in my book, The Grasshopper Myth:
Yes, all healthy things grow. But growth is never as simple as older equals taller or healthy equals bigger. A pea will never be the size of a pumpkin and a rose won’t ever reach the height of a redwood no matter how much you water them, fertilize them or teach them redwood growth principles. It’s just not in their nature.
All healthy, living things reach their optimal size at maturity, then they grow in different ways from that point on. What if that principle applied to churches? I have come to believe it does.
If the church is one body with many parts, isn’t it possible, even likely, that the body of Christ needs churches of all sizes? I am not a failure if my church reaches its optimal stage of maturity, then starts growing in ways other than butts in seats for weekend services.
No Excuses Allowed
We may not all see numerical growth in the church we pastor. But that is never an excuse. This is now and will always be a no-excuse zone. For more about that, check out my previous article, Small Churches Are Not A Problem, A Virtue Or An Excuse.
We are all called to participate in the growth of the church. No matter what size our congregation may be.
Being small is not an excuse to do church poorly.
Small churches can thrive. Small churches must thrive. Because thriving small churches can change the world.
Are you ready for that in your small church? You don’t need to wait.
You can start today.
(Photo by Ksenia Makagonova | Unsplash)