In my last post, Grow It or Close It? Is there a Third Option for Struggling Small Churches?, we established that a struggling small church can become a healthy small church.
But there’s an inevitable question that follows. Namely, how?
How do we help a church move from small and struggling to small and healthy? Maybe even small and strong, small and innovative, even (dare we imagine it) small and world-changing.
Not surprisingly, there are as many ways, styles and methods to do this as there are churches. But there are some universal truths, too.
If we’re going to have any hope of leading a small, struggling church into becoming a small, healthy church, there is an essential first step we cannot avoid. Don’t worry, you can do it.
Step #1: Stop Assuming that Smallness is a Problem to Be Fixed
Yep, that’s it.
Simple? For sure.
Easy? Not so much.
This requires a change of mindset which may be harder than many of us realize. Especially since a lot of us may not consciously be aware we’ve been holding on to this assumption all along.
The biggest problem with small churches is not that they’re small. It’s that we think being small is a problem.
As I outlined in The Grasshopper Myth, the toxic ‘small is bad’ thought process took root in me as a result of 30 years of being told we needed to fix small churches by getting them to grow.
A lot of great things have come from the church growth movement. I’ll write about those soon. But since you don’t fix something that isn’t broken, one of the unintended consequences of the church growth movement is that it leaves a lot of people feeling that small equals broken.
But small is not the same as broken because small is not a problem.
The idea that small churches are a problem – is a big problem!
When we start with the assumption that smallness is a problem, it
- Causes resources to be mis-assigned
- Stifles creativity
- Undermines leaders who function best in smaller settings
- Overvalues management gifts, while undervaluing shepherding gifts
- Under-utilizes the resources of 80-90 percent of the churches on earth
- Causes us to seek false success
- Blinds us to real success
- and more
On the other hand, what would happen if we all took this first step together and stopped thinking of smallness as a problem?
Advantages of a Positive Mindset about Small Churches
With the false ‘smallness is a problem to be fixed’ premise put to the graveyard where it belongs, church leaders of all styles, denominations and non-denominations could move on to solving other real problems together. And we could step forward into all kinds of God-honoring, life-affirming, people-loving ministry.
- Find, create and share new tools to help small churches be healthy
- Look for ways that churches of all sizes can minister to people of all types
- Strategize about how to plant smaller under-the-radar churches into previously unchurched pockets
- Become more open to forms of church that can only work in a small setting
- Spend less money, time and energy trying to grow churches that aren’t meant to be big
- Utilize the strengths of leaders who work best in smaller, more intimate settings
I know there are a lot of great ideas I’ve missed. If you know of some other advantages to having a positive mindset about small churches I’d love to hear them in the comment section below.
What Does a Healthy Small Church Look Like?
So what’s step #2? Namely, if churches can be small and healthy, what are the ingredients that make a healthy small church?
I don’t think there’s a universal second step, but here are some blog posts that might help you get started:
- 7 Small Church Choices that Will Strengthen Your Ministry
- Small ≠ Broken: 5 Steps to Greatness In a Small Church
- Four Steps to Becoming a Great Church – Of Any Size
- Turning Your Small Church's Limitations Into an Innovative Advantage
- Small Churches Exist: Deal With It
Use what you can and toss the rest. What works for you will depend on your church’s context, needs, history, mission and challenges.
But keep trying. Your church exists for a reason. It may or may not get bigger, but it can always get better.
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