Church Leadership
Small Churches Exist: Deal With It
Seven acknowledgements we must make if we hope to value and empower every congregation of every size.

Small churches are here and we’re not going away.

We’re tired of being treated like a problem that needs to be fixed, or ignored as if we don’t exist.

If you write or speak on church leadership issues, I implore you to take note of this huge oversight, and start tapping in to Christianity’s most under-utilized and unappreciated resource.

Small churches exist. It’s time to deal with that reality.

Small Churches are Normal

Of course, we all know small churches exist. Up to 90 percent of congregations are considered small – a stat that worries many church leaders.

The number of small congregations tells us nothing about the health of the overall church.

But those stats are not something to worry about. Because the number of small congregations tells us nothing about the health of the overall church.

Christianity can be in revival or collapse, strong or weak, increasing or decreasing as a percentage of the population, but the stats are always same.

When the church is growing, small congregations are being planted, and when the church is dying, the size of congregations is shrinking. Either way, there’s a whole lot of small going on.

Why Aren’t We Dealing with Small Churches Better?

So we know small churches exist. That’s undeniable. Why are we so bad at utilizing them?

Instead of acknowledging, supporting and resourcing small churches as the most typical way that Christians gather, many in church leadership have marginalized them. And, in doing so, we’ve hurt those churches, their leaders and their members, undermining their contributions to the body of Christ.

If the church is going to be healthy, strong and united, our attitude towards small churches must change. Starting with these seven acknowledgements:

1. Acknowledge that Small Churches Exist

If you go to the average church leadership conference, you’re unlikely to hear anything for small churches.

I don’t even know if we’re ignoring them. Ignoring implies intentionality. You have to acknowledge them to ignore them. Small churches are just invisible.

We spend so much time congratulating and tweaking big and megachurches, we forget that very few churches even have a full time pastor, let alone a worship team or youth leadership.

I don’t expect everything to be aimed at the small church. But we need to keep them in mind when we teach and write about church leadership.

2. Acknowledge that Small Churches are Normal

On the few occasions when small churches get a mention, it’s usually to bemoan the sad lack of church growth. Statements like “90% of churches are under 200 people – we need to fix this” and “here are the eight mistakes your small church must be making” are meant to encourage, but they send a message that small churches are a problem.

As I wrote in a recent post, small churches aren’t a problem. They also aren’t a virtue or an excuse. But they are the normal way most Christians choose to worship, learn, grow and minister.

3. Acknowledge that Small Churches Have Value

Big churches are great, but they’re not for everyone. The intimacy of a small congregation is still where most people receive their greatest spiritual nourishment and find a place of mission and ministry.

While big churches can do things small churches can only dream of, small churches do great things, too. They multiply faster, baptize more people and send more believers into ministry per capita than big churches do. All while fighting constant feelings of inferiority.

Imagine what small churches could do if we acknowledged their contributions instead of wringing our hands over their supposed inadequacies.

4. Acknowledge the Feelings of those Who Lead and Attend Small Churches

Stop talking down to us. Stop feeling sorry for us. Stop assuming we’re doing everything wrong.

Celebrate churches that are growing without demeaning those that aren’t.

Celebrate churches that are growing without demeaning those that aren’t.

Think about your next blog post or conference talk. Will it encourage or discourage the small church pastor who’s struggling to do ministry in fresh, innovative ways under the burden of minimal budget, negative history and other challenging circumstances?

If you don’t know, find out. Stop talking at us and start walking with us for a while.

5. Acknowledge the Unique Needs of Small Churches

Big churches and small churches have different needs. And they require different resources.

There’s a huuuuuge market out there for books, blogs, curriculum and other resources to help small churches do great ministry. But it remains mostly untapped.

6. Acknowledge Our Massive Numbers

Over one billion Christians worship Jesus in small churches. 90 percent of the world’s churches are under 200 in attendance. 80 percent are under 100.

That’s a massive army of believers that are being discipled, energized and sent out in Christ-honoring ministry to our communities and around the world. But those numbers are seldom acknowledged in a positive light.

Small churches need to know they’re not alone. They, along with our big brothers and sisters, are an essential part of the most massive movement for hope, peace, holiness and salvation that the world has ever known.

7. Acknowledge the Contributions Small Churches Make

When was the last time you went to a conference in which a small church was celebrated for the great work they’re doing? Most of us have never seen it. This is a massive oversight that must change.

If you pastor a large church, or write and teach church leadership principles, reach out to the small churches around you. Take a small church pastor to lunch. Ask them how you can help. Listen to what they can teach you.

Small churches are a powerful force for good in this world. So are big ones. If we worked together instead of ignoring or belittling each other, the Holy Spirit could do some amazing things through us.

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