We’re Pushed to Build Bigger Churches – Who Catches Us When We Fall?

Climber 200The push to build bigger churches continues full steam ahead in many (maybe most) American denominations.

In the past few weeks, I’ve received several cries for help from Small Church pastors because of the damage this push is causing.

Today I’m posting two of those messages. One was a comment on this blog. The other was a private Facebook message, so I’ve asked and received permission to make it public.

Because of the personal nature of these messages, I’ve left the names off. But I have verified that they are legitimately from Small Church pastors who are accurately describing their situations.

This post was selected as one of the #BestOf2013, and was re-posted on December, 29, 2013.

The two pastors and their churches are about as different as they can be:

  • One is a man, the other a woman
  • One is a church planter, the other is in an established church
  • One is from a mainline denomination, the other is a conservative evangelical
  • One meets in a refurbished house, the other has a traditional church building
  • One is from the northwest, the other from the midwest

The pastors do not know each other and neither one comes from my denomination, but they both serve active, vibrant Small Churches. And, as you’ll see, their stories and frustrations are surprisingly similar. 

Pastor #1

It’s amazing the number of pastors and spouses who experience great pain and have nowhere to go and no one to talk to.

We were just talking about it in a ministerial group this morning and everyone agreed. Our church leaders drive us to grow the church and reach people, which we all want to do, but where do we go when we’re hurting and broken? Where do our spouses go?

I can’t prove it, but I think this is a huge problem all across the evangelical church and the pastor drop-out rate backs it up.

I’m going to hopefully talk to a denominational leader later this month. Something has to be done!

There’s no easy solution, but if our denominational leaders are going to drive us to grow, they’d better come up with something to help us when we’re hurting.

 Pastor #2

My church is 9 years old, and we have about 60 people in worship each week. It is the healthiest church I’ve ever seen.

Still, when you’re a church planter, the focus on growth is even more intense. The pressure to “Grow or Die” is constant.

So many of us start with next-to-nothing for resources, so if we can’t quickly grow the church to enough people to pay our salary and the rent on the building, the denomination pulls the plug – sometimes after only two years!

Fortunately, my denomination has allowed us to continue to do ministry out of our inherited church building (which used to be a house) without charging us any rent. This has allowed us to stay afloat, but I continue to work at about a half-time salary for doing full-time work.


We Have a Problem

I realize these are just two pastors’ stories. They aren’t backed up by stats or studies. But they reflect a problem that is far more commonplace than most of us would like to admit.

Many pastors feel pushed to grow, but don’t the help they need when that growth fails to materialize.

I’ve been thinking and praying about this situation since receiving these messages. From that thought and prayer, as well as from the many conversations I’m having with fellow Small Church pastors, I’ve written a starter list for how church officials can help us. When it comes to helping Small Church pastors – which, by the way, is the vast majority of churches in every denomination, fellowship, movement, network and faith – these might be a good place to begin.


How You Can Help Us

1. Stop equating size with health. Big churches are great. But size is not the only (or even the best) indicator of health.

2. Stop pushing hurting churches to get bigger. As I stated in a previous post, the Apostles didn’t push church growth on struggling churches. It’s unimaginable that the Apostle John would have sent the latest church growth book to the small, struggling church in Smyrna. Instead, he supported them in their struggles and encouraged them to be faithful.

3. Acknowledge and adapt to reality – that small is normative and big is the exception. Approximately 90% of churches are under 200. It’s always been that way. It’s time to stop making normal churches feel inadequate.

4. Give us the training and tools to become healthy Small Churches. One of the reasons I wrote The Grasshopper Myth was because I looked for years to find a book that would help me pastor a healthy Small Church, but couldn’t find one. We need more books, seminars and other materials about pastoring from a healthy Small Church perspective.

5. Find ways to celebrate great Small Churches. Small Churches don’t have the numbers to verify our successes. Not even per capita stats will show the results. But we have great stories. Give Small Churches a platform to tell them.

6. Get proactive about helping hurting pastors. I have to admit, I’ve been frustrated with some Small Church pastors who complain that their church officials haven’t helped them, only to find out they’ve never asked for help. But that’s often the way it is with hurting people. They’re too hurt to even ask for the help they need.


Pastors Need to Be Pastored

Not to be overly dramatic about it, but someone needs to do the hard work of leaving the 99 healthy churches and pastors, to call out for the lost, hurting sheep who may not even know how to find their way home.

If Small Church pastors got one phone call a year from someone who cares, many will respond. The calls, emails and cries for help that this ministry is already receiving just six months into our existence is proof of that.

The needs are real. The hurt is deep. The help is rare.

But we are not without hope. It just needs to be fanned into flame.


So what do you think? Do you have other ideas that might help church officials to encourage, help and heal hurting Small Churches and their leaders?

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(Climber photo from CEBImagery.com • Flickr • Creative Commons)

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6 thoughts on “We’re Pushed to Build Bigger Churches – Who Catches Us When We Fall?”

  1. I had a meeting with two of our denominational leaders last week, one at the associational level and one at the state level. I shared with them some of the things God has been teaching me. I was encouraged by both meetings. We are going to hold a “Celebrating the Small Church” event in September. It will be back by both the association and state convention. I hope it will be the start of good things.

    1. Awesome! I think church officials need to be made aware of the need and a lot of them will respond like yours did, Paul. Let us know how the event goes in September. I can’t wait to hear.

  2. And then there are the independent non-denom’s who don’t have the ‘officials’ to go to but still struggle with the push to grow.
    Every time someone asks or comments about ‘How’s your church doing?’ With the underlying tone of ‘How many you got now?’ We feel that pressure to grow.

    But I hear some of them are trendsetters who gather with other small churches in thier area to host a mini-conference!

    The phone call/email thing would be a huge encouragement.

    Of course this ministry and those of guys like Dave Jacobs have helped exponentially! So keep it up!

    1. Good point, Scott. Non-denoms face the same pressures, but may have to look a little deeper for the support. And guys like Dave Jacobs (at DaveJacobs.net) are a real help.

  3. This is wonderful. I hope it catches fire and spreads! I would like to see every district in the A/G do things just for small churches…to really minister to small churches and their pastor RIGHT WHERE THEY ARE. Sometimes, as you mentioned above, the help that is given is the “how to grow” books/info/etc. It just ends in frustration.
    I’d like to see seminars with workshop titles like the following:
    Having a Meaningful Worship Service When You Have No Musicians
    A Great Children’s Church When You Have Under 20 Kids, Few Volunteers and No Money
    Youth Ministry in a Small Church…Team Up With Other Churches
    How to Survive with No Health Insurance
    How to Survive with No Retirement Plan
    Building a Team When No One Wants to Play
    How to Find Out What God Wants for YOUR Church
    The Loaves and Fishes Principle…taking what you have and giving it to God
    Sunday School Alternatives When You Have Little to No Sunday School Budget
    Family Ministries instead of Segregated Age Ministries
    Ministering in Rural, Small Town Areas

    I’d also like to see LIBRARIES in each District where churches could check out Bible Studies (what small church has the $300+ to do a Beth Moore Study?!) VBS materials, Retreat packages etc… (I don’t know if this is actually possible with Copyright etc…but it would sure be nice)

    What about a Church Curriculum “Yard Sale” at a District Event? How many big churches have materials that are either thrown away (heaven forbid) for put in a back closet never to be used again, when a small church would be SO BLESSED by them?! I’ve seen big churches use some pretty phenomenal decorations for VBS and Kid’s Crusades that small churches would love to have passed onto them.

    What about having a “Bless the Small Church Pastor” Day? Have free health screenings (majority of small church pastors have no health insurance), free or discounted haircuts, car maintenance, grocery cards?

    People may think, “Are small church pastors that hard off?” Short answer – yes. Many small church pastors live below, at or slightly above the national poverty level for their family size.

    1. You have some great ideas. The District Libraries and District Event Yard Sales would be a great help, and would be fairly easy to implement in almost any denomination, I think.

      Vanguard University already does something similar to the Yard Sale at the SoCal Assemblies of God District conference. They ask pastors to bring in books they’ve used and would recommend to others, but have no use for any more. Then they make them available to others to take for free.

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