While the church would like to believe that the size of a congregation does not matter, it matters to leaders across all denominational lines with deadly spiritual consequences. Recently, a colleague was turned down from submitting his resume to a church because, in their words, “he did not qualify because he was pastoring a small church.” Another pastor friend was turned down by a church because he lived in a rural part of the country, and the search committee did not think he could minister in an urban setting.
According to a recent Lifeway Research survey, the average evangelical church in North America has an average of 65 worshipers each Sunday. Of that, 7 out of 10 worshipers attend a church with fewer than 100 worshipers each Sunday.
The idea that bigger is better, that urban is better, is the wrong mindset for denominational leaders, clergy and congregational members. The only size that matters is a one-on-one personal relationship with Jesus Christ. So why do denominational leaders, church search committees, and boards refuse to recognize that a pastor with the right skillsets that fit the local context can pastor a church of five or 500? If the pandemic has taught the Christian church anything, it is that God can use any person, any size church, to expand the gospel. All he needs is a willing vessel.
Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.
If you are a pastor, I want you to ask yourself why you serve in your current assignment. I imagine you did not say so that you could earn a paycheck. Because believe me, there are many easier ways to serve at a traditional nine-to-five job, with better compensation and retirement plans, than pastoring a local church. Yet, far too many pastors feel ineffective because of the number of people attending service each week.
The reality is that the church has a self-esteem issue more than a worship issue. Nowhere in Scripture can I find Jesus remarking on church size. But he is seen several times speaking of the spiritual effectiveness of the leaders. Pastor, your worth is not found in if you can build a crowd. Your effeteness is found in each soul surrendered to God as you serve where he has called you. The idea that bottoms in the seat are more important than souls surrendered to God is wrong.
God sees your work. He hears your prayers. He grieves when you grieve. He celebrates when you celebrate. He never said to gather a crowd of 5,000 and be a megachurch pastor, and you retain a special place in heaven. No. He called you to be effective right where you are. Rural or urban. Small or large. All he wants is for you to serve him and share the story of redemption with those you meet. If your church grows because of it, then great, but that should not be the leader or church’s driving force. Focus on God and keep the main thing the main thing, a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Stay on Mission.
Most pastors have walked into a half-empty sanctuary to preach. For most pastors in the United States, that is a weekly occurrence. While there might be outliers who have shared the thought that this is a small church, most attendees never have it cross their minds. If they were looking for size, they certainly would not go to more than 70% of churches in the United States.
Guests coming to your local church most likely come because someone invited them. They are not looking for programs but for people who will love them. A pastor who will shepherd them. And a God who will renew them. There is a negative mindset that a smaller church is ineffective, that the pastor and its leaders have failed God or at least mismanaged his resources. That, my friend, is a lie sent straight from hell. God values the local church, and more importantly, he loves the people who make up the church.
The era of bigger is better has been left in the last decade. A new generation of Christians is seeking the age of neighborhood churches and the restoration of the established church. New Christians are not seeking programs; they seek people who live on mission. The local church can be made up of 10 people and still be effective by serving at a local elementary school by tutoring students or adopting a classroom. The Christian church in North America needs to be on a mission, winning the lost and loving their neighbors more than gathering the largest group of people each week.
Each week I attend Kiwanis, a social club dedicated to serving children. Weekly our club averages 15 people, yet, we volunteer over 1,000 hours yearly by serving in 48 activities, all aimed at benefiting children. Now, look at your church. Refrain from telling yourself that you cannot help because you have fewer than 20 people. No. If you have more than two, God is with you, which means the church can do something.
I do not believe God looks at your church weekly and puts the worship attendance number or even the offering number on his number board in heaven. So why does your church? You do it because it is what the church has always done. What if what you have always done needs to be fixed? Change your thinking to change your habits.
Your worth as a pastor or local church is not found in the numbers but in what those numbers represent. Each number you are counting is counted not for a tally sheet but for a heart won or lost in a relationship with God. Be obedient to God and love the people around you. Find ways to invest in a person or a family’s life. Do acts of service not for a reward to build your church but to serve God’s church.
Wherever you find yourself today, do not find your worth or call in how many people sit and listen to a sermon each Sunday. The life you live outside the church might be far more important than the one that shows up on Sunday morning because non-Christians are watching you in your workplace, at the grocery store or eating at a restaurant. You can dress up on Sunday and play church and not be as effective as you can be in being Christ to all. Challenge yourself to be Christ always, in all ways, and focus on what matters, serving God and living out your call daily.