It’s even worse when we regularly see people leave our congregation to go to the nearby megachurch because they offer programs that our small church is 100 to 1,000 sizes away from being able to offer.
This is not a theoretical situation for me. For over 25 years I’ve pastored in Orange County California, within easy driving distance of Saddleback Church, the original Calvary Chapel, the original Vineyard church, the (former) Crystal Cathedral and many other megachurches.
In such an environment, if we try to “compete” by offering a massive array of programs, we will end up frustrated and ineffective.
So what’s a small church to do?
Before I answer that, I’m going to say something that may upset some of my fellow small church pastors. Especially if you’re hurting right now. But I have to say it. Not to cause more hurt, but because we can’t get anywhere until we acknowledge reality.
So here it is, like it or not.
If your small church is struggling, it’s not because of the big church near you.
I know it may feel like it. In my 25-plus years at Cornerstone, I’ve watched as hundreds of people have left our church to attend larger churches nearby – including dozens of musicians, teachers and other leaders who we helped raise up. At times, it’s been hard not to believe that these departures were the reason we struggled while other churches thrived.
Over the last decade or so, I’ve learned a couple things about pastoring a healthy small church in the shadow of giant churches. First, healthy small churches can survive and thrive anywhere, including where I live and minister, in the land of the giants. Second, if people are leaving our church for another church (or no church) we need to step up and do better ministry – not to compete with megachurches, but to provide a healthy alternative for those who want to worship and minister in a smaller setting.
When a church is hurting, it doesn’t help to glare and growl at the big church across town – even if that church is intentionally targeting our church members (a situation that is very rare).
Blaming others makes our own problems worse, not better.
Instead we have to take a serious look at ourselves, and an even longer look to Jesus. He is the answer, not better programs, more volunteers, or a bigger budget. And certainly not blaming another church.