Small churches are not scaled-down versions of megachurches.
We’re different, not just in size, but in methodology. A lot of what works in big churches just won’t work in smaller ones. And vice versa.
But there are some overlapping principles. Starting with the scriptural fundamentals, of course.
Over the years, I’ve noticed some principles that bigger and megachurches tend to do well, that small churches can learn from.
1. Clarity of Purpose
One of the best things to come out of the church growth movement is the focus on having a clear sense of purpose.
We need to know why our church exists.
When I was interviewing to be the pastor of my current congregation, they asked “What’s your vision for our church and community?”
My answer? “I don’t have a vision for your church and community.” Brilliant, right? Hey, don’t knock it. I got the job. And I’ve been here for almost 24 years.
Actually, my answer was longer than that. I continued with, “I don’t know your church or this community, so there’s no way I can have a vision for it yet. But if we agree that I’m called to be your pastor, we’ll spend as much time as it takes to ask the Lord to help us figure that out together.”
And that’s what we did. It took longer than I expected, but we didn’t give up until we knew what our purpose was. We know why we’re here. We know what we do well, and what we’re not called to do at all.
That understanding is one of the first things any healthy church needs. If you can’t answer the simple question “why does this church exist?” find out.
People should have an idea what to expect when they come to your church.
Megachurches have this one down pat. Too much so for some people’s taste.
But, even if you like to keep things loose and quirky, there’s a baseline of consistency that is a must for a healthy church.
Consistency starts with something as simple as truth in advertising. If it’s called a prayer breakfast, pray during the breakfast. If we tell people it’s a fellowship night, it’s dishonest to turn it into a surprise evangelistic service. It’s called bait-and-switch, and it’s illegal when your grocery store does it. It’s unethical when our churches do it.
Yes, things change. Especially in the often unreliable world of small churches. And some changes are good. But surprises usually aren’t good. They should be the exception, not the rule.
People want to invite friends to a church they love, but they won’t bring them if they’re never sure what strange new thing might happen this Sunday morning.
Megachurches have mega-schedules with mega-calendars. Some events are planned months, even years in advance. But it’s impractical and unnecessary for most small churches to plan an entire year in advance, (unless you have a liturgy where a lot of your year is already set for you, of course.)
For too many small churches, the last-minute scramble has become commonplace.
I know it’s hard to become a planner when you’re used to winging it. So if that’s you, I suggest starting small. Here are a few, simple planning ideas that I’ve learned from megachurch pastors.
Put the title of next week’s message in this week’s bulletin
If you’re preaching in a series, this becomes easier. But even if you don’t like preaching in a series, this causes the pastor to think at least one week ahead, reduces the Saturday night panic and increases the quality of your message, with less stress and work for you.
Never finish one meeting before putting the next one on the calendar
Have everyone grab their calendars and agree on the next date before they leave the next leaders meeting. It’s less work than trying to pull everyone together to compare calendars in multiple emails later.
Make notes on any event that will be repeated later
Within a week of any special event, write down what worked and what didn’t. Especially for annual events. You’ll forget it by this time next year.
Plan seasonal events in advance
Christmas should never be a last-minute scramble. It’ll probably happen on December 25 this year, too. Start thinking, talking and planning by September at the latest.
Planning seems like more work to begin with. But it will mean a lot less work in the long run. And a lot less stress, too.
4. Accountability Systems
For some people, megachurches may feel like they’re just one big, impersonal system. I don’t happen to feel that way. But even if you do, that doesn’t make systems evil or unnecessary.
I’m not naturally a systems guy. But I’ve learned that good systems aren’t about stifling creativity or spontaneity, they’re about increasing accountability and stewardship.
I spend several hours each week building and maintaining proper systems. I and the church are better off for it.
To protect yourself, your church and your integrity, begin with this one basic principle: never be alone with the money.
Here are some simple steps to make that happen:
- Have two people count every offering
- Deposit the money into the bank as soon as possible
- Set up a simple, accurate accounting system
- Set up a budget
- Stick to the budget
- Have someone other than you or your family members doing as much of this as possible
Proper systems will never build a healthy church. But bad systems – or no systems – can kill one.
5. Training and Delegation
Megachurches offer everything from discipleship classes to music workshops and more. And they have enough staff and volunteers to delegate most of the necessary tasks.
But how do you train and delegate when a church is so small there aren’t enough people to come to a training class, let alone enough money to hire staff?
Do what Jesus did. Start with one.
Jesus called his disciples one or two at a time. And he didn’t have a class or curriculum for them. He asked them to follow along, watch what he did, and do what they saw him do. Then he answered the questions that came as a result of that relationship.
You don’t need a classroom or curriculum to start. You don’t even need a plan. You just need someone who’s willing to spend some time with you.
And don’t rely on an announcement to get that person. People don’t respond to announcements. People respond to a personal invitation.
Ask someone if they can show up an hour early on Sunday to help you set up, or stick around for an hour after the service to help you tear down. Or take them along on hospital visitation. Find out what they can do, then have them do it with you.
As you see what they do well, or have a gifting in, start handing that job off to them. Then grab another person and do the same with them. And train them to train others.
There’s Always More to Learn
Small churches can’t do things the way megachurches do things. And we shouldn’t even try.
But let’s not be so stubborn, prideful or (I’ll say it) stupid that we think we can’t learn from each other.
Copyright © 2016 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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