Reimagining the Advantages of a Small Church
I think the era of the megachurch and the celebrity pastor has cast a dark cloud on the small church and the small church pastor.
In this case, church culture mirrors the larger culture. According to a Small Business Administration press release back in 2019, small businesses account for 44% of U.S. economic activity. Yet as a nation we tend to gauge our overall economic health off of the biggest and wealthiest companies. While this might be the way of our culture, this shouldn’t be the way of the church.
Here are four powerful elements of a small church that, if embraced, will help our church culture reimagine the advantages of small churches.
The Power of Mission
Just as the economy needs small businesses, so too do we need small churches. It is estimated there are somewhere between 380,000 and 400,000 churches in the U.S. According to a 2019 study from Exponential by LifeWay Research, almost 70% of U.S. churches have fewer than 250 people in their worship attendance. Just imagine if all small churches ceased to exist. Think about all the lampstands throughout the country, in rural areas, in hard-to-reach places, that would go out.
Mission participation isn’t predicated on the size but the faithfulness of a church. Therefore, we must never lose sight of the mission power of small churches—both in their salt and sending capacity.
The Power of Adaptability
Adaptability is a double-edged sword in the case of small churches. It seems that many small churches have difficulty adapting to a changing context. Yet, because of their size they are perfect to exhibit more flexibility and adaptability to changing contexts.
Pastors and church leaders of small churches would do well to cast vision regarding their size. They need to see their size as an advantage not a disadvantage, an opportunity not a liability. Especially as the church emerges from the pandemic, smaller churches are better positioned to make some much-needed changes in order to adapt to a shifting culture.
The Power of Connection
The iconic sitcom Cheers embodies the power of connection for a small business. Cheers is a place where everybody knows your name. Personal connection and relationships definitely give small businesses an advantage. However, once again, this might be seen as a double-edged sword in smaller churches. Why? Because in smaller churches people tend to know everyone else’s business.
Smaller churches can create a safe haven for people with personal baggage, where they will be loved and cared for by a group of broken people who also are in desperate need of a gracious and saving King. Smaller churches that can do that will take advantage to the power of connection that so many people search for today.
The Power of Simplicity
The smaller an organization, the simpler it can be. Notice I stated can be. The larger an organization becomes, the more it has to fight for simplicity. A larger organization by nature becomes more complex. As a missiologist who has studied organizational leadership, I know that the more complex something is, the harder it is to lead, scale and reproduce. That is why many businesses and churches, as they grow larger, have trouble managing and maintaining.
For smaller churches there can be a simplicity in their size, if they embrace it. First, you can broaden your reach to find leader(s) who possess leadership capabilities but may not have complex organizational skills. Have you ever read the qualifications of what many small churches look for in their next pastor? Even Jesus wouldn’t meet many of their expectations.
Second, a small size means the church can focus just on a few things—and doing them well—rather than trying to do everything. Again, let your size be to your advantage not your disadvantage. I’ve heard many small church pastors say, “We can’t compete with the children’s ministry down the street.” Stop thinking that way. Concentrate of the few things you can do well and excel at them.
I know I don’t have to say this, but feel the need to do so: You don’t have to apologize nor be ashamed of being a small church. I wish our church subculture would honor and celebrate you more often. But I know you don’t do what you do for the praise of men but for the glory of God. As you continue to be faithful to who God has made you and has called you to be, make sure you remind yourself of the mission, adaptability, connection and simplicity your size affords you. For there is power in being small.