Small churches don't need to make big church choices in order to become great churches.
We need to make better small church choices.
After my last post, Want Your Small Church to Be Great? Make Good Small Church Choices, many readers wanted to know what good small church choices look like.
Here are seven examples of choices that work in most small church contexts:
1. Do Relationships Well
People don’t attend small churches by mistake.
They do so because they want a more intimate, personal experience than they can get in a bigger church. They want to know the people they’re worshiping and ministering with. They want to know the pastor. They’re not wrong for wanting that.
As a church grows, the pastor stops being able to do hands-on ministry for every church member. And that's okay.
As we'll see in points 3-5 (below) it's never good for a pastor to do all the ministry, even in a very small church. But a small church can't become healthy or big if we distance ourselves from people when we don't need to.
Doing the smaller, intimate, relational things well is a good small church choice.
2. Tailor Your Methods to Your Size
I prepare every Sunday message for my small church with all the prayer, study and passion I have.
Because of that preparation, I could preach to a church of 2,000 or 20,000 and no one would think “that was a small church message.” But I don’t deliver it in the same way to a crowd of 50 as I would to 200 or 2,000.
In each of our two Sunday morning services, I preach to about 75 adults from an eight-inch high platform. The front row is three feet away from me – usually filled with high school and college students. Occasionally I’ll joke back-and-forth with the audience.
When I teach that same message to 15 students at our local Teen Challenge recovery center, we sit in a circle. I make references to their current struggles and I throw it open for Q&A.
If I took that same message to a crowd of 5,000, I would expect to stand or sit on a four-to-five foot raised stage, with the front row ten to twenty feet away from me. My eye contact would consist more of scanning the crowd than face-to-face. Many people would be looking at me on a screen instead of in person. There would be no back-and-forth banter.
Same message. Same quality. Different methods for different sizes.
Producing excellent content, then tailoring its delivery for the size of the crowd is a good small church choice.
3. Be the Pastor, Not the Hero
There are times when a pastor needs to take a ministry – or even the entire church – on our shoulders. I know. I’ve been there.
But we can’t keep going that way. When a pastor does all the ministry, the church starts expecting, then requiring the pastor to do all the ministry.
The church needs more pastors, fewer heroes. And fewer self-imposed martyrs.
It's been said that if you're too busy, you're probably doing something (or many things) that God isn't asking you to do.
Some pastors need to slow down, assess what we're doing, then dump anything that isn't essential. (See point 4, below).
Letting go of the busy work is a good small church choice.
4. Do More By Doing Less
There was a season in our church when we stopped doing everything but the ministries we could do really well, including several things we've been told every church must do. It took some time. It wasn’t painless. And it left us with very little on the calendar. But it was one of the best decisions we ever made.
Doing less allowed us to concentrate our efforts on a few things we knew we could do well, instead of wasting our time, money and energy on doing a lot of things poorly.
Starting from there, we only added ministries when we knew we could do them well.
Doing fewer things so we can do them better is a good small church choice.
5. Build Your Farm Team
Big churches are like the New York Yankees. When they need a new team member, they can hire a great player from another team.
Small Churches are like the Kansas City Royals. If they want a great team, they have to build it from the ground up by developing a solid farm system. It has to be home grown. That’s a lot harder, but it can still win you a World Series.
Hands-on discipleship must be in the DNA of every healthy church – big or small.
I know it’s hard to find and train willing volunteers. But in the long run, it’s harder not to do it.
Finding and training volunteers is a good small church choice.
6. Let People Make Mistakes
Big churches can’t make mistakes. Big buildings with big crowds and big budgets leave them no wiggle room for anything less than fully-prepared, high-quality excellence at all times.
Small churches can make mistakes.
That’s not an excuse for shoddy work or lack of excellence. But it’s an acknowledgment that excellence looks different in a small church than in a big one.
For instance, musicians who couldn't get on the worship team in a big church are celebrated for leading in worship at a small church. And the fact that they can be on the platform, leading in worship at an earlier stage of their musical development helps them accelerate their skills.
It’s never too early for any volunteer to do some kind of ministry. Even if they’re not quite ready yet. If we wait until people are completely ready before we trust them to do ministry, they’ll never be ready.
Training others to do the work of ministry, then letting them do it before they’re completely ready is a good small church choice.
7. Don’t Act Like a Big Church, Act Like a Great, Growing Small Church
People don’t attend a small church to get a dumbed-down version of a big church experience. But that’s often what we try to give them.
For too many years, I made the mistake of trying to act like a big church. After all, that’s what I’d been told to do. But my church members got frustrated, I became overwhelmed and the church became unhealthy.
Acting like a church of 500 when you’re a church of 50 makes no sense. Acting like a church of 50 that's preparing for 100? Now that’s more like it.
Acting appropriately for your current size, while preparing to be bigger is a good small church choice.
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