Three facts sit atop my list of things I wish someone had told me in Bible college.
FACT #1: 80-90 percent of pastoral ministry students will never pastor a church larger than 250 people.
FACT #2: Virtually all of us will pastor a small church for at least some time in our ministry.
FACT #3: You can pastor a small church well, without settling for less.
Seriously, take a look at the class schedules for any ministry training school or seminary. How many of them are telling their ministerial students any of these realities, let alone teaching them the skills needed to pastor a small church?
I was taught how to break the 200 barrier. But I was never taught how to pastor a church under 200. And I was never told that this would likely be the way I’d spend most, if not all my ministry years.
And we’re still doing it. Teaching ministry students how to get through 200 without teaching them how to do it well under 200. Isn’t that just a little cart-before-the-horse-ish?
Let’s take a look at these points, one at a time.
FACT #1: Most of Us Will Never Pastor a Big Church
How do I know this? Because 90 percent of the churches in the world have less than 200 people in them. Even in the developed world, 90 percent of churches have less than 250-300.
When is someone going to break this news to our pastoral ministry students?
Instead, we pump them up with big church principles and expectations, most of which apply in less than ten percent of the churches in existence. Then we wonder why so many pastors leave ministry burnt out and disillusioned, with damaged churches in their wake.
Most lead pastors will do most of our ministry in small churches because 90 percent of churches are small.
Certainly some of those churches will grow. But the undeniable, statistical fact is that most of them will stay small. So why are we teaching ministry students big church skills, almost exclusively? Most of those skills will never apply to 90 percent of the ministry they’ll be doing.
FACT #2: Virtually All of Us Will Pastor a Small Church for Some Time
99.9 percent of lead pastors will spend at least some time pastoring a small church.
If you’re a ministry student, I know you’re convinced you’ll be the exception to this rule. I knew I would be. But, even if you expect to build a church to mega-size, the absolutely irrefutable fact is that unless your father currently pastors a megachurch, no one will ask you to pastor a megachurch as your first position in ministry.
Maybe you’ll go to an existing small church and it will grow to mega. Maybe you’ll be a church planter and oversee its growth to become the next big thing. But even if you do, here’s an undeniable reality.
Before it becomes big, it will be small.
So, since every pastor will lead a small church for at least some time in their ministry, shouldn’t we learn how to do it well?
Plus (and I know this will sound like lack of faith to some people, but here I go anyway), what if your mega-plans for megachurch growth don’t pan out that way? It doesn’t for 80-90 percent of us.
I know we’re all convinced we’re great speakers and leaders. We have revolutionary ideas no one has ever heard of before. We have faith to move mountains.
But what if…?
What if God’s plans for our ministry are different than our plans? What if he wants to use us in the service of a smaller congregation for most, if not all of our ministry years?
Can we be okay accepting God’s will, if that’s what his will is? And if a lifetime of small church ministry is possible, even likely, shouldn’t we spend some of our ministry training time preparing for it?
FACT #3: You Can Pastor a Small Church Well, Without Settling for Less
Recognizing the universality of small church ministry is not a defeatist attitude. Far from it. When you recognize, embrace and passionately fulfill God’s call on your life to pastor a small church, you will find it to be a profound privilege and blessing. To you, to the people you pastor and to the community your church ministers in.
It’s not settling
It’s not missing out
It’s not less than
If you don’t let it be.
Let’s stop acting like we’re embarrassed by all the small churches in the world. Maybe there are so many small churches because they’re God’s idea, not our failure. Instead of making pastors feel guilty that they didn’t “make it” when they're pastoring a small church, let’s help them do it well – and passionately.
It’s time to embrace the wonder of the ministry God has called most of us to do.
Copyright © 2016 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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