One of the challenges of pastoring in a small church is that there’s nothing typical (or normal) about anything we do.
Our schedule, our skill-set, our facilities (or lack of), our staff (or lack of), our salary (or… you get the idea…). None of it is typical.
Our friends and colleagues in big churches are able to collect information, assess data and find numbers that help them understand what a healthy church looks like statistically, but those metrics fall apart as churches get smaller.
The Big/Small Difference
Imagine that a collection of large churches sends in their data for assessment. It might be discovered that they have 35-45 percent of their offerings going to salaries, and 50-60 percent of their weekend worshippers involved in small groups on average. If so, almost all the healthy churches surveyed might fall within those parameters, and if they’re outside them, it will only be by a percentage or two. If they’re WAY outside them? That’s a sign of imbalance and ill-health.
In healthy big churches, average numbers will be typical numbers.
On the other hand, if you collected the data from a bunch of small churches, the averages might show 50-60 percent of their offerings going to salaries and 30-40 percent of their weekend worshippers involved in small groups. (These numbers are used as examples, not based on actual satistics). But that won’t tell you what a typical healthy small church looks like.
Instead of most of the small healthy churches landing within those narrow ranges, as we saw in bigger churches, healthy small church percentages will land all over a much wider range.
Healthy small churches can have a pastoral salary range from zero percent to 80 percent and have a small group involvement anywhere from 0 percent to 100 percent. Yes, literally 0 – 100! Some small churches are small enough that they don’t need additional small groups (how would you do small groups in a church of 12, for instance?), while other small churches might have a couple small groups with every member of the congregation active in one.
In healthy small churches, average numbers will not be typical numbers.
The Unique Small Church
What does this mean and why does it matter?
It means that small churches are a unique part of the body of Christ. Because we’re small, the averages aren’t typical and what’s typical is all over the place.
That’s the nature of small groups of people in general and small churches in particular. Trends, metrics and averages don’t mean much for us because you need much larger numbers before they become reliable measures of health and effectiveness.
Knowing this matters because, if the pastor of a small church isn’t aware of this dynamic (most of us aren’t), it’s easy to see the averages, compare them to our congregation’s metrics and assume that we’re not healthy, even though we might be very healthy. Or, conversely, we might match up with average numbers quite well, but not be healthy at all.
Small churches need to assess health and effectiveness in more qualitative ways than quantitative.
It’s not because we don’t want to look at the metrics, but because metrics mean less when the numbers are smaller. Having a minimum sample size is an essential element for statistical accuracy.
Small Church Health
Certainly, it’s helpful to assess our healthfulness in the most objective way we can. No one is capable of a completely unbiased assessment, especially of something we’re so close to.
But metrics are not as helpful in assessing small church health as they are in assessing big church health.
Small churches need other ways to assess our health and effectiveness.
Want some ideas? That’s the subject of my follow-up article, 8 Non-Numerical Ways To Assess The Health Of A Church.
Copyright © 2019 by the author or Christianity Today.
Click here to read our guidelines concerning reprint permissions.