If Small Churches Are Essential, Why Are We Not Fulfilling Our Potential?

Small churches are vibrant, active participants in the current work God is doing in the world. We want to do better. We can do better. We will do better. But we can’t do it alone.

The church has often survived and thrived without the presence of large congregations.

But it has never survived or thrived without the presence of healthy small congregations.

Small churches are not an add-on.

We’re not less-than.

We’re not simply to be tolerated or patronized.

Small churches are the most normative, abundant, and necessary expression of the gathered body of Christ in history.

That is as true now as it has ever been – maybe even more so.

Why Small Matters More Than Ever

As society becomes more distrusting of the church, of large institutions, of authoritarian leadership, and of chest-thumping claims of grandiosity, the value of smaller expressions of faith will become even more valuable.

As society becomes more distrusting of the church, of large institutions, of authoritarian leadership, and of chest-thumping claims of grandiosity, the value of smaller expressions of faith will become even more valuable. Click To Tweet

No, we shouldn’t jump to the other side of the pendulum and romanticize the small church (I wrote more about that in my follow-up article, 7 Dangers Of Romanticizing The Small Church) but we do need to normalize and celebrate smaller expressions of faith more than we’ve been doing.

And it’s not enough to add “of course, there’s nothing wrong with a church being small” to our talk about church growth. In fact, that’s so blatantly patronizing that it has the opposite effect to what’s intended.

Imagine speaking about anything else in life that way (“of course there’s nothing wrong with being poor, staying single, not going to college…”) and we immediately see the problem.

Why Small Has Always Mattered

For 2,000 years and counting, the church of Jesus Christ has been the most-relentlessly-growing organism in history. Jesus promised he’d build it, and he’s keeping that promise.

But almost all that growth has happened through the multiplication of smaller congregations, not by increasing the size of existing churches.

Huge churches are a very recent phenomenon. If you look at where and when it happens you’ll see that big congregations tend to occur not when Christianity is growing in spiritual influence, but almost exclusively after that influence has begun to wane and the society is becoming more post-Christian.

Massive congregational growth is usually more about consolidation than increase.

Yes, you read that right. Big church venues do not tend to happen when the church’s spiritual influence is increasing in the culture at large. They are far more likely to happen as the culture is turning away from faith.

And it’s often a subconscious response to a decline in the church’s influence and status. Being bigger makes us feel more important.

In the early, exciting, renewal/revival stages of spiritual influence, you’re far more likely to see a lot of fast-duplicating small congregations than an increase in the size of individual congregations. Click To Tweet

In the early, exciting, renewal/revival stages of spiritual influence, you’re far more likely to see a lot of fast-duplicating small congregations than an increase in the size of individual congregations.

This does not mean that an increase in church size is the cause of decline (I’ve seen no evidence to support that) but there is a correlation, even if there’s no causation.

Re-Invest In The Small

So, what should we do about this? Intentionally keep churches small?

While some movements have that as a goal, I don’t think it’s the best way forward.

As I’ve written before, I don’t want churches to be small, I want small churches to be great.

So how do we get there?

How do we reignite a movement of smaller, fast-multiplying congregations that have a strong positive impact on the culture around them?

We need to invest in smaller congregations, both new and renewed. We need to resource them, encourage them, normalize them, and celebrate them.

We need to invest in smaller congregations, both new and renewed. We need to resource them, encourage them, normalize them, and celebrate them. Click To Tweet

Not just to help them get bigger (although when that happens, we will celebrate it), but to help them become everything God intends for them to be.

We Need More – Yes, More

Up to 90 percent of global churches are small.

And they are home to about half of the world’s Christians.

But the vast majority of church leadership resources are created from and for larger churches. Perhaps 90 percent of the resources are created from and for 10 percent of churches.

We’re virtually ignoring half the body of Christ (and half of our potential influence) and up to 90 percent of our pastors.

So I’m going to come right out and say it.

Small churches need more stuff.

  • Better curriculum
  • Extra attention
  • Greater focus
  • Size-specific training
  • More encouragement

No, we’re not perfect. Not by a long shot. But we’re not a problem, either.

Small churches are vibrant, active participants in the current work God is doing in the world.

We want to do better. We can do better. We will do better.

But we can’t do it alone. No one can.

We can – we must – do it together.

(Check out my follow-up article, 7 Dangers Of Romanticizing The Small Church.)


(Photo by Japhin John | Unsplash)

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