Small Churches REALLY ARE the Next Big Thing

Next 2 - 200cMore evidence has just come in.

Small Churches are the next big thing.

I wasn’t planning to revisit this idea for a while, but a couple days ago I read a post by Thom Rainer, with the curious title “The Death of the Mall and the Future of Church Buildings.”

In it, Thom made some points that were so similar to my recent post on the subject, I had to comment on it.

Malls are closing all over America, especially large malls, according to Jeff Jordan, writing in The Atlantic Cities. And he predicts that many more will close as people’s habits and tastes change.

This trend is primarily fueled by online shopping, of course, but that’s not all. It also speaks to a growing desire in Millennials for intimacy and smallness.

Thom expanded on that research about malls to reflect on what this might mean for Small Churches, megachurches and church buildings, by asking  “Is it then fair to suggest any relationship between the decline of the malls and the future of the church buildings? I think so.”

And that’s when Thom’s post started to feel like Yogi Berra’s déjà vu all over again.

For comparison, here are two quotes from my post, “Small Churches are the Next Big Thing – With One Condition“, each followed by quotes from Thom’s post.


I wrote:

There’s growing evidence that this new generation will bring the greatest opportunity for Small Church ministry in 2,000 years.

Why? Because, as the first generation with a majority born and raised outside traditional marriage, genuine relationships and intimate worship – what Small Churches do best – will matter more to them than it did to their parents.

…Millennials…will not be drawn to the kinds of churches their parents built. They won’t want a big Sunday morning stage show as much as they’ll want genuine intimacy and relationships.

Because of this need, Millennials are starting to take a peak at what Small Churches have to offer.


Thom wrote:

The Boomer generation has been the generation of bigness and sprawl. Their parents, in the aftermath of World War II, moved numbers of them to the new and massive suburbia. Large malls would soon follow. Most large megachurch buildings were constructed primarily for the favor of the Boomers.

But the children of the Boomers, Generation X and, even more, the Millennials, have been pushing for more intimacy and smallness. …Among the Christian Millennials there is a desire for greater intimacy in church. They are in many ways triggering a new small group revolution. And though they may not have an explicit aversion to large church facilities, neither are they attracted to them.


I wrote:

I’m convinced that healthy Small Churches are going to be the next big thing.

No, megachurches won’t disappear, despite all the predictions to the contrary. And, as I stated in an earlier post, I hope they don’t.

Instead, alongside megachurches I see a growing hunger for healthy, high-quality, innovative Small Churches to meet the needs of upcoming generations.

If Small Churches can provide opportunities for genuine relationships with God and each other, in a healthy church, with practical ministry to the surrounding community, we can be the vanguard of a new church movement.


Thom wrote:

As there will still be large malls twenty years from now, so will there be large church facilities whose worship centers can accommodate 2,000 or more in one service. But you will also see a discernible difference …Churches of all sizes will “downsize.” Or, as an alternative, they will not build larger the first moment the capacity feels challenged in their worship services.

A Boomer church leader looks at a small building and limited acreage and sees challenges. He sees the limitations of size and space. A Millennial leader looks at the same building and acreage and sees opportunity. He immediately thinks multiple venues, multiple services, and multiple days.

It will be fascinating to watch these trends unfold. Large malls will yield to online shopping and smaller and more intimate shopping villages. And large church buildings will yield to smaller church buildings and other venues that aren’t “churchy” at all. The result may be that we will see our church facilities actually utilized more; greater facility stewardship could result. After all, only college football stadiums are utilized less than church facilities.


In case you’re wondering, Thom and I have never met, and he did not read my post before writing his. Until I commented on his post and asked his permission to use it here, he didn’t know I existed.

I did read two of his books several years ago. But this wasn’t the topic of those books, so there’s more going on here than memory residue.

So what does it all mean? We can’t know for sure, but like I said in yet another post a few weeks ago…

I feel a stirring going on.

Get ready, Small Church pastors. The Millennials are coming.


So what do you think? Are Small Churches the next big thing? What can we do to be ready for the Millennials?

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(Next? photo from Sarah Reid • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources and is the author of several books. His latest is The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation.


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