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.
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