Small Churches Are the Next Big Thing – With One Condition

What's next?

Some people have written off the current generation spiritually.

That is a mistake – for the church and for the Millennials.

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.

But this opportunity comes with one, big condition.

They won’t give up quality to gain intimacy.

And they shouldn’t have to.

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They’re Checking Us Out – What Will They Find?

Millennials are discovering they have the same needs people have always had. Needs that include a desire to worship something or someone bigger than themselves, and to do so with others who have similar feelings.

In other words, church.

But they 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 peek at what Small Churches have to offer. But they’re used to a high-quality experience in everything, and they won’t settle for less.

Thankfully, that’s not as intimidating as it sounds.


Quality = Health

Small doesn’t mean cheap, shoddy, lazy or low-quality. At least it shouldn’t.

But what Millennials mean by quality will also be different than what their parents meant.

Too often, for Boomers, quality has meant excess. Glitz. Over-the-top. Bling. What the New Testament calls adornment.

(Interesting, isn’t it, that a lot of ministries which properly reject the sin of immodesty have no problem with the flip-side sin of adornment? Some even revel in it as evidence of God’s blessing.)

Quality, for a Small Church, can be summed up in one word. Health.

It starts by getting the basics right.

  • Real-world bible teaching
  • Genuine relationships
  • Practical ministry opportunities
  • Clean, safe childcare
  • And yes, competent musicianship on the worship team

The good news is, your church doesn’t have to be big to do any of that. And even if one or two aren’t at the level you’d like, most people are OK with it as long as there’s high quality in the other areas. They may even step in and help where the church is weak.


Do the Millennials Even Care About God?

Here’s what I said about this topic in The Grasshopper Myth:

In They Like Jesus but Not the Church, Dan Kimball relates some of the feelings new generations of non-believers have about Jesus and the church. The main result is reflected in the title, of course, but other findings were interesting too.

One young woman expressed her desire for a church that was smaller and more intimate. As she so beautifully put it, “Make church a book club with soul.” She’s not alone in that longing.

Another unchurched friend of Kimball’s told him, “…I think the meetings should be smaller. Every once in a while a big meeting is cool, but not as the norm.”

Yet another asked, “Didn’t Jesus spend most of his time in smaller settings, with smaller groups? … I bet that is where they learned the most from him, not when he was in the masses with larger crowds.”

Some of what younger generations want and need from the church has nothing to do with the style of the worship band. Many of them just don’t like the corporate vibe of a bigger church. What speaks to their heart can only happen in a smaller setting.

– from The Grasshopper Myth: Chapter 8 – Small Church, Big Vision
by Karl Vaters


Small groups, Small Churches and “book clubs with soul” (I just love that last one).

What’s going on here? Can we really take these anecdotal stories as an indication of a trend?

I think so. Because the evidence is coming in to back it up.

In a recent poll by the highly-respected Pew Forum, they found what everyone has suspected. Millennials attend church less often than their parents.

But that’s not all. “Among Millennials who are affiliated with a religion, however, the intensity of their religious affiliation is as strong today as among previous generations when they were young.” (emphasis theirs)

So, fewer of them attend religious services, but among those who do, their faith is as strong as ever. And that dedication is likely to grow, as it typically does when you find yourself in the minority.

Which means what? Everyone has their own interpretation, of course. Here’s mine.


It’s Time to Lead

Churches follow trends as much anyone. Usually about 20 years behind.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can lead.

Not in a “look how cool they are” way, or a “look how smart they are” way. But in a “look how they love one another” way.

There’s no better place to express or sense that kind of love-leadership than in a Small Church. It’s another reason 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. But it really won’t be a new movement. It will be the oldest one of all.

The main reason I’m convinced Small Churches will be the next big thing is because they’ve always been a big thing. Since the day of Pentecost, innovative Small Churches have been the way the majority of Christians have done church. They’ve just stayed under the radar for 2,000 years.

Now may be their turn to come out of the shadows.

It’s about time.


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

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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(What’s Next? photo from Sarah Reid • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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