Beauty in Small Places

The best numbers I can find indicate that there are between 300,000 and 400,000 churches in the United States. If we include house churches, some say this number would be closer to 500,000 Christian congregations. This means there are around 499,900 churches or Christian fellowships that don’t hit either the Outreach Fastest-Growing or Largest lists.

Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy reviewing the annual Outreach 100 edition of this magazine. I rejoice that large churches and rapidly growing churches are all over this country. I delight wherever and whenever God is on the move, people are coming to faith, believers are growing in spiritual maturity, and Jesus is being lifted up.

Now I am not a math expert but I think it is safe to say that most churches in America will never hit the Outreach 100 Fastest-Growing and Largest lists. So, how can the leaders and members of those 499,900 other churches be encouraged and feel affirmed in their progress and ministry?


Not every church grows numerically, but they can still have a powerful impact. I know of a church that loses over 200 families a year. This church ministers in a radically transient environment with lots of military people, college students, homeless folks and people who are moving due to financial issues or work changes. This church gains slightly more families than they lose on an annual basis, but the net increase in size is not noteworthy. But churches like this should celebrate the investment they have in so many lives and families, even when their membership and Sunday attendance numbers are not skyrocketing.

Another congregation I know ministers to lots of people who come to their area on work visas. This church sees people come to faith in Jesus and helps believers go deep as disciples. But every couple of years most of the congregation leaves the country. This church’s impact is powerful and global, but the bottom line tends to stay about the same from year to year.

Ask yourself whether your church is reaching new people, helping believers grow in maturity and touching lives. Maybe God has called you to be a sending church more than a keeping church. If so, celebrate this unique call from God.


I have a buddy who pastors Generations Church in the Los Angeles area. Every time the church gets stable, has enough people to pay the bills and develops a great core of leaders in the congregation, Generations plants a new church. When it does this, it often sends the best leaders and most passionate church members. The church has done this no fewer than three times. Some would say they are crazy; others would call it sacrificially faithful.

Here is the good news: There are more Bible-preaching, thriving, Jesus-loving, outreach-oriented churches around Los Angeles because of Generations Church. I believe more people have come to know and follow Jesus because of the ministry of this multiplying congregation. While it will never become a massive church in terms of the size of this specific congregation, Generations is massive in faithfulness and fruitfulness for the sake of Jesus. [Editor’s Note: Generations Church, with an average attendance of 165, is included on this year’s Outreach 100 Reproducing Churches list.].


I gather with a small group of pastors who love Jesus, our community and each other. One of them recently hosted us for our morning gathering at his church. He is new to the community so it was the first time we met at his church. He boldly had followed the leading of the Holy Spirit to come to this struggling, declining congregation that only had a handful of faithful elderly folks.

He gave us a tour of the old building and rejoiced as he pointed out that they are now setting up extra chairs for worship. He told us that an elderly gentleman came up to him on Easter and said tearfully, “Pastor, this is the first time in more than a decade that the worship center has been full, except for a funeral.”

As we walked through an adjoining building that had been used primarily for storage, we all rejoiced as we walked through rooms with fresh paint, children’s furnishings and clear signs of new life. This passionate and faithful pastor pointed out that they had even built a playground next to the church. When we asked how many children were now part of the congregation, he said, “Around 60.” We stood in humble reverence drinking in the glory of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.

What was truly fascinating is that there is another old and struggling church right next door. My friend’s church had put in a nice fence and built a place for children along the side of the church in faith that God would revive and draw new young families. The other church had also spent money to put in a fence along the side of their building. Inside this area was a small cemetery for their church members. Take a wild guess which church is drawing young families and which one is slowly dying?


Every church starts small. We need to embrace this reality and never despise the days of building, breaking up hard soil, and laying the foundation for the next chapter. I was training a group of wonderful Nazarene pastors in Virginia, many of whom are leading churches that range from 75 to 150 people. All of them have a vision to reach new people and see life, health and growth in their church.

During one of the breaks, an enthusiastic young pastor pulled me aside and said, “I am so excited to infuse an evangelistic culture in our church on every level.” He was fired up and it showed.

I asked him, “So, how many people are part of your church? If everyone is there on the same Sunday, how many people are you going to mobilize for true organic outreach in your community?” He said, “Twelve!” I looked at him, with absolute seriousness, and said, “Perfect! If you can get all 12 of these people living and engaging in outreach as a lifestyle, your whole church will be evangelistic!”

He assured me that eight of them were on board, but the other third of his congregation was already pushing back on outreach. We spent the next 15 minutes praying and strategizing how he could build outreach into the culture of this powerful body of believers.

The truth is, Jesus started with 12 and the world has never been the same.

Let’s all pray for the huge churches and rapidly growing congregations around this beautiful country. Let’s rejoice and cheer them on. Read the lists on slowly and pray for each church. But, let’s also know that there are a whole lot of things to celebrate in the other 499,900 Christian fellowships.

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Kevin Harney
Kevin Harney

Kevin Harney ( is an Outreach magazine contributing editor, lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Monterey, California, and the founder and visionary leader of Organic Outreach International ( He is the author of the Organic Outreach trilogy and, most recently, Organic Disciples: Seven Ways to Grow Spiritually and Naturally Share Jesus, in addition to multiple studies and articles.