Why don’t small churches grow?
When you run a website, as I do with NewSmallChurch.com, you get to see the search terms people use to find it.
That question is one that pops up all the time. So today I’m going to take a stab at answering it. But before I offer my answer, I’m going to challenge the premise of the question:
The presumption that small churches don’t grow is false.
Small churches do grow. Some grow numerically. Most grow spiritually. Many grow in both ways.
It’s just that when they grow numerically, we don’t call them small churches any more. We call them medium, big or megachurches.
Where do we think all the big churches came from? Those frogs started out as tadpoles. Asking why small churches aren’t growing is kind of like asking “why aren’t there any big small churches?”
Small Churches Grow Spiritually – They Grow Disciples and Other Churches
Just because a church doesn’t have more butts in the seats than it had last year, doesn’t mean it isn’t contributing to the growth of the kingdom of God, to the spiritual growth of its members, or reaching its community.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but supporting small churches is one of the best ways to reach the world for Jesus.
As I wrote in, The Best Way to Promote Church Growth? Support Small Churches, small churches lead more people to Jesus, disciple more believers and plant more churches per capita than our big church counterparts.
Big churches do great things, too. But small churches grow disciples and plant other churches really well.
But Why Isn’t MY Small Church Growing?
Despite contributing to the growth of the church at large, the frustration for most small church leaders is that their church isn’t growing numerically. So, for the remainder of this post, I’ll try to tackle another question that is also asked in search queries that find my website. Namely, “why isn’t my small church growing?”
That question is not easy to answer – even if I knew your church. Yet sometimes it seems like everyone knows what’s wrong with our small churches but us. And they’re all lining up to tell us.
Church leadership bloggers (including me) don’t know your church like you do. So the next time anyone writes a list of all the things your church must be doing wrong, take what applies, leave what doesn’t and don’t let false guilt overwhelm you. The same rules apply to my list.
With that preface, I’m now going to wade into this potential quagmire of misunderstandings and hurt feelings and give you three reasons some churches stay small.
1. Some Churches Stay Small Because Some of Them Aren’t Healthy
Many people seem to think that if a church isn’t growing numerically that’s all the evidence they need to call the church unhealthy. That’s just not true. I’ve addressed that issue in The Grasshopper Myth and many blog posts, so if you’re new here, check these out for starters:
- 9 No-Fault, No-Excuse Reasons Many Healthy Churches Stay Small
- Small Churches Are Not a Problem, a Virtue or an Excuse
- The Myth of Inevitable Congregational Growth
It’s false to say that every church that isn’t growing numerically is failing. But it’s also false to claim that ill health is never a reason why some churches don’t grow.
Of course there are a lot of unhealthy small churches in the world. Take a look around. Unhealthy small churches outnumber unhealthy big churches. But that’s to be expected, since small churches outnumber big churches by huge margins – healthy and not.
If your church is small, don’t assume it’s not healthy. I don’t. But take an honest look at it. If it is unhealthy, fix that first.
The last thing the world needs is unhealthy small churches becoming unhealthy big churches. Getting bigger fixes nothing.
2. Some Churches Stay Small Because We Need Churches of All Sizes
Some people love worshiping Jesus in a big church. Some prefer worshiping in a small one. If current and historical statistics are any indication, those numbers are about half and half – with the lean being towards small churches.
At least half the Christians in the world choose to worship, serve and minister in a small church setting. So we need a lot more healthy, God-honoring, community-reaching small churches, not fewer.
And not just in small towns. A typical city may have one megachurch serving 10,000 people, but that same city will have at least 100 small churches serving the same number of people. Actually, it’s more likely to have about 1,000 small, medium and house churches serving about 100,000 people. Those are the usual percentages. That’s not bad. That’s normal.
3. Some Churches Stay Small Because That’s What God is Calling them to Do
I know this is counter-intuitive, but there’s no biblical mandate for individual churches to get bigger.
Of course, God wants the church to grow. Reaching people for Jesus is an undeniable aspect of what it means to be the church. But God grows his church in a variety of ways. Sometimes he grows individual churches bigger. Most of the time he plants more small churches.
If you’re wondering what you’re doing wrong that’s causing your church to stay small, my answer is simple. You may not be doing anything wrong.
Of course, there’s always room for improvement in every church. But if your small church is healthy, don’t let anyone bully you into thinking it isn’t healthy just because it’s small.
Your church is probably small because you’re one of the many healthy small churches Jesus wants in your city, town or rural area.
If there are big churches in your city, don’t play the church size comparison game. Nobody wins when we do that. Recognize your church’s place alongside them as an equally valuable member of the body of Christ.
The world needs more healthy small churches, not fewer. Yours can be one of them.
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