Over 90% of the churches in the world have less than 200 people in them.
80% of them have fewer than 100.
What if that's not a bad thing?
What if smallness is an advantage God wants to use, not a problem we need to fix?
What if we started thinking differently about church size, church growth and ministry success?
What if we kept one foot firmly planted in all the great things we've learned from the church growth movement, while pivoting to recognize the small churches and their leaders who have unintentionally felt marginalized by a lot of the church growth talk?
What if, instead of pushing small churches to bigger numbers, we gave small churches the tools they need to become healthy, strong and innovative at the size they are now?
Some great things might come from that. Maybe bigger churches. Definitely healthier churches.
Let's do small awesome!
That's what the Pivot blog is about. Innovative Leadership From a Small Church Perspective.
When we make this pivot, we find ourselves looking at some new things in new ways. And that leads to some new questions. Here are my responses to a few of them.
Are Small Churches Better Than Big Churches?
Megachurches are great! Not only do I have nothing against them, I think the world needs more of them.
But while more people are going to big - and megachurches than ever before, they don't appeal to everyone. As it turns out, small churches have a greater impact than most people are aware of. More followers of Jesus have attended small churches in the last 2,000 years than any other type of church. They still do today. That doesn't mean they're the best way to do church (the "best" way is whatever works for the people who need it), but as the most popular type of church in existence, they need to receive more attention, support and encouragement than they typically have.
Small churches make up 80% - 90% of the known churches in the world, but are the subject of probably less than 1% of the books and blogs about how to do church ministry. Simply put, small churches and their leaders have been largely neglected, especially when it comes to pastoral training.
Pivot wants to help change our thinking about that. To encourage the body of Christ that small churches can be healthy, innovative and world-changing - just like they've been for the last 2,000 years.
We don't want more churches to be small, we want small churches to be great! We want to see better, stronger, healthier small churches, led by passionate, prayerful, capable, innovative and loving pastors.
We believe being small is not a problem to fix, but a strategy God wants to use.
Most small church leaders have not been told that - at least they haven't been told it enough. If we can help turn up the volume on that message, we will have done what we set out to do.
What Do You Mean by "Small Church"?
The best way to answer that question is with this section from Chapter 3 of my book, The Grasshopper Myth:
Small, Big, Mega … Is there a Venti?
Numerically, the boundaries between churches of each size are fairly fluid, but here's what I mean by the following:
House Church: Less than 25 (and meeting in a house)
Small Church: 25 - 350 (or under 25 meeting in a church building)
Big Church: 350 - 2,000
Megachurch: Over 2,000
Within some categories, church size distinctions could be broken down even further. For instance, there are clearly two distinct levels of Small Churches. A typical Small Church is 25 - 200, while churches from 200 - 350 might be called midsize.
But, as with everything in the church, numbers aren't always the best way to make these distinctions. At various size levels, churches actually take on a new personality. This shift means that churches of 200 - 350 in weekend attendance, while still considered small, have a personality and management type that is very different from those at 25 - 200.
These shifts in church personality may actually be a more accurate way of defining each size.
House Church - Run as a single family unit. Everyone participates in everything.
Small Church - Strong pastoral control. Ministries are mostly offered by age categories.
Midsize Church - Some staff is hired and ministries are available based on interests and needs.
Big Church - More program-oriented. Pastoral ministry is done by staff pastors and in small groups. A very high quality is expected in all programs and ministries.
Megachurch - Operates much like a group of Small Churches meeting niche needs. They gather under a common name and Lead Pastor for weekend services. Most attenders do not see the Lead Pastor outside of the preaching time. The Lead Pastor is a leader of leaders, pastoring the church staff.
A Small Church has less than 350 in average weekend attendance. But when I use the term Small Church I don't include house churches for a couple of reasons.
First, house churches are a unique sector of church life that operate on significantly different principles than other churches. While I appreciate them and am grateful for the people they serve, especially in parts of the world where the church has been driven underground, I have zero experience or expertise in them and wouldn't presume to teach about them.
Second, just as there is plenty of information about how to run a megachurch, there are also plenty of books and websites about house churches. My goal is to tackle the middle ground between the house church and the megachurch where the vast majority of churches are, but where there has been very little support, encouragement or teaching.
About Karl Vaters
Hi, I'm Karl and I'm a small church pastor.
I've been a small church pastor for over 30 years. The most recent 22+ years in my current church, Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California.
I started writing about the value and the needs of small churches because I got tired of looking for books, seminars, websites, anything that would address the unique blessings and challenges of a small church.
I've read all the pastoral ministry books and attended all the seminars, just like you. And I've found great help from many of them. But, after a while, I started getting frustrated with the books and seminars because all the "can't miss" principles for growing my church … did miss.
My church stayed small.
But it was (and is) a good church. And I was (and hopefully still am) a good pastor. So I started asking myself some questions about small church ministry.
- "Why didn't anyone tell me it would be like this?"
- "Why can't I find help to understand how to do that?"
- "Why does it feel like I'm on my own, learning by trial-and-error most of the time?"
I started writing those questions down.
That led to writing down my experiences and life-lessons. I kept asking myself and a few close friends, "Why doesn't someone write about this stuff?" Then I realized, after a friendly nudge or two, that this "someone" might be me.
So I gathered all those random thoughts, ideas, frustrations and experiences together. I un-randomized them (de-randomized? ex-randomized?) and wrote the book for you that I wanted someone to write for me.
That book is The Grasshopper Myth.
Then I started a blog called New Small Church, to turn the monologue of a book into a dialog. The good folks at Leadership Journal and Christianity Today read that blog and asked me if I'd be willing to bring that conversation here. So here I am.
I write three blog posts in a typical week. Usually on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Since these are blog posts, not sermons, there's one ingredient I can't supply by myself - feedback. That's why there's a comment section at the end of every post. I love it when you to tell me what you think. Leave comments, ask questions, tell me what works and what doesn't, including what you'd like to see more of and less of.
If we all pitch in, everyone can get something great out of it.
That's why I'm here. I hope that's why you're here.
Let's Pivot to a new conversation.