Small Churches = Big Impact
Ed Stetzer interviews Brandon O'Brien about his book, "The Strategically Small Church"

Brandon O'Brien, associate editor for Leadership Journal, has written a new book, The Strategically Small Church. In this work, he seeks to demonstrate how small churches are uniquely equipped for success in today's culture. Ed Stetzer interviewed O'Brien about his book and why being small may be more missionally strategic.

Ed: What do you mean by "strategically small church"? Is this a new church model, like "simple" or "organic" church?

Brandon: A "strategically small" church is one that has learned to recognize and leverage the inherent strengths of being small. Being strategically small means that instead of trying to overcome your congregation's size, you have learned to use it to strategic ministry advantage.

In other words, I'm not advocating a new model of doing church. Instead I'm hoping that by telling the stories of some truly innovative and effective small churches, other small congregations will stop viewing their size and limited resources as liabilities and begin thinking about them as advantages.

Ed: What keeps small churches from becoming "strategically small?"

Brandon: Many small churches try to operate like big churches. The idea seems to be that if we imitate what the megachurches are doing–if we do ministry like them–then we'll grow like them. The trouble is, operating like a big church can undermine the inherent strengths of being small.

For example, as I explain in the book, research suggests that one of the factors that contributes to whether or not young people stay active in church after high school is intergenerational relationships. The students who have more and deeper relationships with adults other than their parents are much more likely to remain in the church in college and beyond. Now, smaller congregations offer tons of opportunity for developing these intergenerational relationships. But the hallmark of large churches is age-segmented ministry, programs designed to separate children from youth, youth from adults, young adults from seniors. When small churches imitate this model, they undercut their advantage for fostering intergenerational relationships.

Ed: So are you arguing that small churches are more effective than larger ones just because of their size?

Brandon: Absolutely not. I have been involved in healthy big churches and unhealthy small churches (and vice versa). But I believe that small churches have some real advantages over larger ones, advantages that could make them more effective in some important aspects of their ministry. That doesn't mean, though, that small churches will be more effective just because they are small. A congregation has to recognize its strengths and learn how to leverage them in order to be effective.

August 09, 2010

Displaying 1–7 of 7 comments

Nick Traegler

November 14, 2010  6:26pm

This idea of church health not resting on membership rates is simple to understand but something that most don't comprehend. The church I do ministry with has been rapidly growing from what use to be a church of 300 to a church of 700 within a matter of a couple of years, which I thought meant that we were extremely healthy. What I now realize is that although we are healthy in that more and more of our new members and even some members that had been going for 20 years starting to get more involved, the size of our churches do not matter one bit to God if we are not equipping others to lead others to Christ.

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October 23, 2010  2:36pm

I really enjoyed this article. I thought it was encouraging and had some good insight. I agree with Brandon about the importance of small churches. I have never liked "MEGA CHURCHES". I don't like that concert feel, the fact that you know basically no one, or the hype that comes from them. I think one of the greatest assets to going to church is the relationships that come from it. And you achieve that so much better from a smaller church setting. Spiritual Growth can and should happen no matter what size you are.

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Gary Gilbert

August 16, 2010  3:49pm

As a Pastor of a "small church" I am constantly challenged with overcoming the mindset (for myself and others in the congregation) that we have to grow numerically in order to be considered a successful ministry. Even our Christian culture proclaims that "God is big on #'s...why He even knows how many hair is on your head!" The flip side is that God also knows when 1 single sparrow falls to the ground...apparently He cares about the small #'s too! I truly look forward to reading Brandon O'Brien's book.

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Jason Hess

August 12, 2010  7:33pm

Two things... 1)Brandon said "Instead of measuring success in terms of the number of people we attract, we can judge success in terms of how many people we equip and send out for ministry" Hear hear...we're called to make disciples not necessarily converts. Converts are the fruit of successful discipleship. 2)Brandon said " many places, perpetual numerical growth will be impossible: in rural areas where there aren't many people to attract..." So true, I have lived in a town where that was indeed true. There was no megachurches you had to drive an hour to get to one. In a rural community not many people are going to make that kind of drive; and the same can be said the other way not many people from big cities are going to travel out to rural areas to attend a church.

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August 12, 2010  4:24pm

Thank you for writing this book. I have felt for a long time that we are star struck with big churches and pastors of big churches. Just look at who speaks at all the main conferences? Are you telling me there aren't godly men leading godly small churches? We have to give value to small churches and encourage them to keep doing great things for the kingdom! I look forward to reading this book.

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August 12, 2010  10:32am

I was greatly encouraged by this interview and plan to order the book as soon as I send this off.

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Rob Haskell

August 09, 2010  9:08am

Fun article. Two comments: 1. The pastor of a large church in a growth spurt told me: "The reason we are big is that we are good at being small." All the growth was happening in small groups. 2. I personally do think that there must be some kind of numerical expansion in a healthy church. However, there are some church planting movements that build in staying small by planting a new church once the congregation reaches a certain number.

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