To flourish, the local church and its leadership must change its mindset from growing to focusing on what it does well.
Small Groups as Big Groups
There was a period where bigger was better. That mindset stretched churches into debt as they built massive structures and focused on how many people sat in a pew instead of how many stood before Jesus, accepting him into their hearts. The boom of the church growth mindset has created a bust of devalued properties due to a host of deferred maintenance, a decrease of members, and spiritual anorexia, where the church still tries to be the church of two decades ago but lacks the healthy capacity to be the church of today.
Instead of focusing on growing bigger, begin to focus on being better. Better in greeting newcomers. Better in sharing a meal with someone. Better at praying for the needs of the community.
How many services do you host weekly? Instead of three, try two. Or even one? Then, focus on small gatherings where members and guests can grow relationally closer to each other and God. The idea that Sunday is the only time to meet and share must be set aside for the gospel’s sake. The world’s schedule has changed, and adapting to the community’s needs around you by revising the day or even the service location does not water down the gospel but expands the opportunity to share it with more people. As you meet at different times, try not to focus on the number of attendees but on the quality of the conversation that gains traction to dive deeper into God’s Word and times of group prayers. God can use your perceived smallness and allow the bigness of the calling to shine through.
Enhanced Relationships Through Fellowship
There is a longing in the world today for people to feel valued. They are valued not for what they can bring to the table but for who they are. God has placed giftings in each person that the local church needs today—many leaders and churches long for authentic relationships that make a person feel seen and heard. The small church can do that if the church members are willing to be used by the Holy Spirit to touch people more personally. Church attendance does not have to be a Sunday morning gathering. Many non-church people do not want to enter a church facility because they feel unworthy due to past choices. So, be open to finding creative ways to connect with non-church and new members. Church members can also create offline social media groups that meet in local places of business. Sometimes people are more likely to attend meetings that are not held in church facilities, especially if they come from a non-Christian background.
Stay open to meet people where they are, not where you want them to be. Focus not on where you meet but on how you interact while you are meeting. Bond over the commonality of a sports team or children the same age, and over time, you will have an opportunity to live out your faith in such a way that the newcomer will want to know more about why you are so happy or why you seem unfrazzled when bad things happen. God has a plan, but the current members of the local church have to work God’s plans and not their own. Relationships are built over time, not forced at the beginning. Trust the process and the God you serve and follow his lead. When you do, you will see that relationships through fellowship will only enhance the bond of the nonmember to the church over time.
People over Programs
Leslie Parrot wrote “I don’t believe program(s) is our problem; direction is.” It would help if you read that again. How many churches, maybe even yours, focus on programs as the solution to rebounding from decline? As if God values a program more than a person’s soul. As a local church pastor or leader, I want you to embrace the small church mindset of valuing people over programs. To see each person and their value to the kingdom as an opportunity to live life with them by walking alongside them in the spirit of God. Let me give you permission to stop designing programs to attract new members and focus on loving the people you have, not the people you desire.
Put your energy and that of the people within the church to begin to do acts of kindness to people everywhere they go. I promise that it will make a difference to the person they are interacting with and the members doing the acts of kindness over time. The fastest way to change the church is to preach the gospel without using words. As church people, let us focus not on how we feel or what we desire but to begin to serve others around us. Simple acts of kindness and small gestures can resonate with believers and unbelievers alike. This past week, a man came into the church office looking for our compassionate ministry program. The heat had gotten to him, and I felt the Spirit prompt me to ask if he would like a bottle of water—a small act but a gesture of what I want my heart to say. Less words and more actions can share with others how Christ has impacted your heart and that of the church.
See the value of being a small church leader. See the opportunities to flourish within smaller walls by serving others as Christ serves the church.