William Vanderbloemen is the CEO and Founder of Vanderbloemen Search Group. a recruitment and consulting firm for churches. Previously, he served as the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Houston. Recently, William interviewed me for his podcast and I interviewed him for this blog post.
In this interview, William expresses his appreciation for small churches and their leaders, talks about the importance of a church’s underlying culture (from his new book, Culture Wins), and offers some great insights from his experiences with hundreds of churches of all sizes.
Karl Vaters: You work with churches of all sizes. For many people, the advantages of big churches are obvious. What strengths do small churches have that they should lean in to?
William Vanderbloemen: Small is a four-letter word. People talk about small churches, and they don't remember that what they mean by saying small is actually the average, normal church in the United States, with 100 or 150 people gathering on a weekend. One of the major strengths this type of church brings to the table is they are much more resilient to a change in leadership than a large church.
One time I heard it said that when a small church loses their leader, it's like a cat with nine lives. They'll be fine. They bounce back. If a large church loses their leader, it's like a beached whale, and they have a hard, hard time getting things right again. Resiliency is a huge strength for small churches.
Another great strength of the small church or normal church is that normal churches can gather around one or two specific causes, own that cause, and then make a significant difference in its city. We have a normal-sized church here in Houston who has made it their mission to own the business of feeding breakfast to homeless people. Everyone in the city knows it, but it's not because it's a big church. It's because they're small enough to have their entire community wrap their arms around one common cause.
KV: What challenges do small churches face that are different from big ones?
WV:Think of the church as an industry: it’s the Bride of Christ. For the last few years, there’s been a dynamic developing within every sector of the United States labor force, and it is starting to happen in the church, too. It’s this: big things are getting bigger, and small things have to become more boutique.
If you look in the industry of law, attorneys who are in smaller firms have to specialize. Meanwhile, big firms are buying up other firms, and big firms are getting much bigger. Small firms better figure out how to become boutique. To translate this to the church world, the same is happening between large churches and the “normal” small church we talked about earlier. The real no man's land is the in-between, the mid-sized church. For me, the variables of being a mid-sized church cause more fear or nervousness about what’s next for them, than the variables of being a normal-sized or small church do.