Holding on to Hope in Your Small Church

Don't lose heart by playing a numbers game.
Holding on to Hope in Your Small Church
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Linda Carlblom works in the Lakeshore Bible Church children's ministry in Tempe, Arizona. About 70 people attend worship each week. Sometimes she teaches as many as a dozen children. Other weeks, there are far fewer.

One week, only one boy showed up.

"It was a boy who I felt never really wanted to be there to begin with since he never participated," Carlblom said. "I was supposed to teach Junior Church after Sunday school and thought about just scrapping the whole business. This boy was almost too old for Junior Church anyway and I figured he'd rather not go.

"Imagine my surprise when he asked if today was Junior Church. We usually only have it every other week. I told him it was.

"'Oh, good!' he said. 'I can't wait for that!'"

Carlblom taught the lesson she planned, sensing God was at work, and she learned that ministering to one person is all the inspiration she needs to press on.

Minister to Individuals

"Minister to individuals, not to the masses," she said. "Your church may never be any bigger than it is today, but an individual's life may be changed forever because you took the time to care."

It's a lesson that may seem counter-cultural, given the notoriety, the number of baptisms, and the inherent ability megachurches have to reach the masses. But the truth is, most people who attend church on any given Sunday do so in churches with under 200 members.

According to a Barna Research Group study conducted in 2009 called "How Faith Varies by Size," only 9 percent of adults who frequent a Protestant church attend a megachurch.

"In contrast, 41 percent of adults attending a Protestant church associate with a congregation of 100 or fewer adults," says a summary of the study on the Barna website. "An additional 23 percent can be found at churches of 101 to 200 adults, 18 percent associate with bodies of 201 to 499 adults, and 9 percent can be found in churches of 500 to 999 adults."

So, 64 percent of people who attend Protestant churches attend churches of 200 or fewer adults. That leaves plenty of opportunities to minister to the next person who walks through the door.

Concentrate on Spiritual Growth

While it is easy for people in small churches to get discouraged when looking at the huge attendance numbers at megachurches, one believer who helped start a small church in north central Iowa points out that growth isn't always about numbers.

"Everyone's goal was the same—to reap the benefits of God's Word and grow spiritually," said Eldon Lindsay, one of 20 people who started the church in his hometown.

They invested in each other's lives while meeting in one of the members' basement for worship. They didn't have the money to purchase a building, but that was fine. As time passed, the church grew and the funding grew as well. More than a decade later, that same church has more than 100 members, active youth and young adult programs, and a full-sized contemporary worship band.

Spiritual growth led to spiritual vitality, which, in this church's case, led to population growth. Embracing the importance of spiritual growth freed up the members to invest heavily into each other's spiritual lives. God took care of the rest the way he saw fit.

Fill a Need

Pat Guldenpfennig attends Northwest Bible Church in Kansas City, Missouri—a church which averages 130 adults and 30 children in worship each week. Six years ago, she saw a need at her church, and rather than being discouraged about it not being met, she met it herself.

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