The Essential First Step to Having a Healthy Small Church

First Step 200c

In my last post, Grow It or Close It? Is There a Third Option for Struggling Small Churches?we established that there are more options for a struggling Small Church than to grow it or close it. We can help it become a healthy Small Church.

But there’s an inevitable question that follows, isn’t there? Namely, how?

How do we help a church move from small and struggling to small and healthy? Maybe even small and strong, small and innovative, even (dare we imagine it…?) small and world-changing?

Not surprisingly, there are as many ways, styles and methods to do this as there are churches. But there are some universal truths, too.

If we’re going to have any hope of leading a small, struggling church into becoming a small, healthy church, there is an essential first step we cannot avoid. (Don’t worry, you can do it.)

 

Step #1: Stop Assuming that Smallness is a Problem to Be Fixed

Yep, that’s it. Obvious, right? Simple, for sure. Easy…? Not so much.

This requires a change of mindset which may be harder than many of us realize. Especially since a lot of us may not consciously be aware we’ve been holding to this assumption all along. 

As I outlined in The Grasshopper Myth, the toxic “small is bad” thought process took root in me as a result of 30 years of being told we needed to “fix” Small Churches by getting them to grow. Since you don’t fix something that isn’t broken, the unintended consequence of such teaching is that it leaves people, especially Small Church pastors, believing that small equals broken.

The biggest problem with Small Churches is not that they’re small. The biggest problem with Small Churches is that we think Small Churches are a problem.

But small is not the same as broken because small is not a problem.

The idea that smallness is a problem – is a big problem! 

When we start with the assumption that smallness is a problem, it…

  • Causes resources to be mis-assigned
  • Stifles creativity
  • Undermines leaders who function best in smaller settings
  • Overvalues management gifts, while undervaluing shepherding gifts
  • Under-utilizes the resources of 80-90% of the churches on earth
  • Causes us to seek false success
  • Blinds us to real success
  • …and more

On the other hand, what would happen if we all took this first step together and stopped thinking of smallness as a problem?

 

What Might Happen After This First Step?

With the false “smallness is a problem to be fixed” premise put to the graveyard where it belongs, church leaders of all styles, denominations and non-denominations could move on to solving other real problems together. And we could step forward into all kinds of God-honoring, life-affirming, people-loving ministry.

We could…

  • Find, create and share new tools to help Small Churches be healthy
  • Look for ways that churches of all sizes can minister to people of all types
  • Strategize about how to plant smaller under-the-radar churches into previously unchurched pockets
  • Become more open to forms of church that can only work in a small setting
  • Spend less money, time and emotional energy trying to grow churches that aren’t meant to be big
  • Utilize the strengths of leaders who work best in smaller, more intimate settings

I know there are so many other things I’ve missed. What do you think might open up to us if we took this first step together? Tell us your ideas in the comment section below.

 

What Does a Healthy Small Church Look Like?

So what’s step #2?

Namely, if churches can be small and healthy, what are the elements that make a healthy Small Church?

I’ve been asked this question a lot. And I’ve answered it in bits and pieces on this site and in The Grasshopper Myth, but just like there’s a universal first step towards health, I believe there are a handful of universal ingredients that define a healthy Small Church, with one foundational principle underneath all of them.

You can read about that in my follow-up post, The Elements of a Healthy Small Church – And the Hidden Agenda that Can Kill It.


Some previous posts about helping struggling Small Churches become Healthy Small Churches:

 

So what do you think? Do you have any other ideas about what we could do if we started with this step and re-thought about the value of Small Churches?

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

(First Step photo from imanka • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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9 thoughts on “The Essential First Step to Having a Healthy Small Church”

  1. I commented on your previous article about the church I pastor and how I got to where we are 30 years later (Still small in number but powerful in ministry). One adjustment I had to make is that the Lord did not put me here to “save the world”, he put me here to bring those I came in contact with to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
    I learned a long time ago that we cannot do everything. So, what we have learned is to do whatever we do well. It is like trying to paint a house with one gallon of paint. You can thin it down enough and do the job. However, if you have only one gallon of paint, paint the front door / entrance of the house. That is the first thing people see when they walk up so make it look nice. As you get more paint you can do the remainder of the house, but to spread one gallon over the whole house by watering it down just does not accomplish anything worth the effort.
    I feel the key issue to this part of your article is — change your mindset. A keg of gun powder will move a huge rock out of the field. However, two ounces of nitro will do the same thing. LORD, MAKE OUR SMALL CHURCH AS POWERFUL AS NITRO! It is all about “Him”, not about “us”. Stop trying to be a keg of gun powder and ask the Lord to make you Powerful as Nitro in His work.
    Thanks for these articles, Karl. I can assure you I for one will pass the word about this much needed site. God bless you.

  2. I commented on your previous article about the church I pastor and how I got to where we are 30 years later (Still small in number but powerful in ministry). One adjustment I had to make is that the Lord did not put me here to “save the world”, he put me here to bring those I came in contact with to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
    I learned a long time ago that we cannot do everything. So, what we have learned is to do whatever we do well. It is like trying to paint a house with one gallon of paint. You can thin it down enough and do the job. However, if you have only one gallon of paint, paint the front door / entrance of the house. That is the first thing people see when they walk up so make it look nice. As you get more paint you can do the remainder of the house, but to spread one gallon over the whole house by watering it down just does not accomplish anything worth the effort.
    I feel the key issue to this part of your article is — change your mindset. A keg of gun powder will move a huge rock out of the field. However, two ounces of nitro will do the same thing. LORD, MAKE OUR SMALL CHURCH AS POWERFUL AS NITRO! It is all about “Him”, not about “us”. Stop trying to be a keg of gun powder and ask the Lord to make you Powerful as Nitro in His work.
    Thanks for these articles, Karl. I can assure you I for one will pass the word about this much needed site. God bless you.

  3. LOVE it.

    I think, too, that churches/pastors need to give themselves permission to heal – permission to WORK on being healthy and not becoming healthy in a weekend.

    Take our church for example. We came right after a church split. It was AWFUL – but we were young, naive and called.

    We LOVE our people and our community. The most affective people are the ones who come, plant themselves and STAY through flood, famine and bounty. (because most people do NOT stay…especially pastors)

    For the last several years we have been in SURVIVAL mode – as a congregation AND as individual families. I’ll give you an example. In our church of 25 – 30 people we have had:

    3 women have breast cancer – all with double masectomies – one dear lady had cancer twice.
    2 others with other types of cancer
    1 heart transplant
    2 strokes
    2 near fatal and life altering car accidents
    1 life threatening accident
    2 bankruptices
    2 major financial setbacks
    7 deaths
    5 major family crisis
    3 divorces (one due to marital unfaithfulness)
    4 moves
    We’ve had our electric turned off once and have had the bank contact us twice for late payment on our church loan (a loan by the way that was purchased when the church was running 85-90) Our people give – but it never seems to be enough especially when we keep having people leave.

    We’ve had two long term families leave in the last 6 months – total of 7 people (from our 30) – but not all for “bad” reasons. For example – in one family the young lady fell in love with a youth pastor across town…she left to attend his church and her family soon followed. NOT a bad reason – yet – it still cuts into our monthly income etc…

    One pastor, a good friend and fellow laborer in the small church setting – said that our community is bound with a spirit of “poverty” – and he’s right. There are churches doing quite well – but not all that glitters is gold – and some are doing well because of outside help.

    Our county has a nick name from it’s past: Bloody Breathitt. We were the place during the turn of the last century of several feuds. While that is in our past…in a very real way the stigma of that still lingers over our people. We’re the poster children of where “helping hurts.”

    So, this is where we find ourselves – and why just surviving is a daily struggle. I must admit, I’m tired of just surviving – I want to THRIVE. I handed out in church a couple of Sundays ago 5 different names on several small sheets of paper. The names were of people currently attending our church, ones who used to attend – but have fallen away and go nowhere, and of unsaved family members – we had over 75 people!! So what does that say? We need REVIVAL and NEED it BADLY – We need God to stir FAITHFULNESS in the hearts of believers, to CONVICT and SAVE backsliders and the unsaved!! May God do it!

    1. Hi Cindy,

      May the Lord continue to bless you! Your people and yourself have been through so much. During a difficult time in my church’s life one of our denominational leaders told me, “Tim, sometimes being plateaued IS growing.” There are times in our life that we ARE just living one day at a time, one step in front of another. I guess maybe Isaiah had this reality in mind when he stated that we will “run and not grow weary” (the fast, upbeat times) and we “shall walk and not grow faint” (those one step in front of another, just trying to survive another day or another struggle times). Christ is building His church through you and all of us who are endeavoring to serve Him faithfully. Thank you for sharing and know that we all struggle in our service to the Lord. Reading your comment gave me renewed strength in knowing that I am not the only pastor struggling, neither am I struggling alone.

  4. LOVE it.

    I think, too, that churches/pastors need to give themselves permission to heal – permission to WORK on being healthy and not becoming healthy in a weekend.

    Take our church for example. We came right after a church split. It was AWFUL – but we were young, naive and called.

    We LOVE our people and our community. The most affective people are the ones who come, plant themselves and STAY through flood, famine and bounty. (because most people do NOT stay…especially pastors)

    For the last several years we have been in SURVIVAL mode – as a congregation AND as individual families. I’ll give you an example. In our church of 25 – 30 people we have had:

    3 women have breast cancer – all with double masectomies – one dear lady had cancer twice.
    2 others with other types of cancer
    1 heart transplant
    2 strokes
    2 near fatal and life altering car accidents
    1 life threatening accident
    2 bankruptices
    2 major financial setbacks
    7 deaths
    5 major family crisis
    3 divorces (one due to marital unfaithfulness)
    4 moves
    We’ve had our electric turned off once and have had the bank contact us twice for late payment on our church loan (a loan by the way that was purchased when the church was running 85-90) Our people give – but it never seems to be enough especially when we keep having people leave.

    We’ve had two long term families leave in the last 6 months – total of 7 people (from our 30) – but not all for “bad” reasons. For example – in one family the young lady fell in love with a youth pastor across town…she left to attend his church and her family soon followed. NOT a bad reason – yet – it still cuts into our monthly income etc…

    One pastor, a good friend and fellow laborer in the small church setting – said that our community is bound with a spirit of “poverty” – and he’s right. There are churches doing quite well – but not all that glitters is gold – and some are doing well because of outside help.

    Our county has a nick name from it’s past: Bloody Breathitt. We were the place during the turn of the last century of several feuds. While that is in our past…in a very real way the stigma of that still lingers over our people. We’re the poster children of where “helping hurts.”

    So, this is where we find ourselves – and why just surviving is a daily struggle. I must admit, I’m tired of just surviving – I want to THRIVE. I handed out in church a couple of Sundays ago 5 different names on several small sheets of paper. The names were of people currently attending our church, ones who used to attend – but have fallen away and go nowhere, and of unsaved family members – we had over 75 people!! So what does that say? We need REVIVAL and NEED it BADLY – We need God to stir FAITHFULNESS in the hearts of believers, to CONVICT and SAVE backsliders and the unsaved!! May God do it!

    1. Hi Cindy,

      May the Lord continue to bless you! Your people and yourself have been through so much. During a difficult time in my church’s life one of our denominational leaders told me, “Tim, sometimes being plateaued IS growing.” There are times in our life that we ARE just living one day at a time, one step in front of another. I guess maybe Isaiah had this reality in mind when he stated that we will “run and not grow weary” (the fast, upbeat times) and we “shall walk and not grow faint” (those one step in front of another, just trying to survive another day or another struggle times). Christ is building His church through you and all of us who are endeavoring to serve Him faithfully. Thank you for sharing and know that we all struggle in our service to the Lord. Reading your comment gave me renewed strength in knowing that I am not the only pastor struggling, neither am I struggling alone.

  5. Pingback: The First Step in Developing a Small Healthy Church | Small Church Connections

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