Some pastors are called to do ministry in a big church. But most are called to small church ministry.
So how do you know which one you’re called to? Is there a way to figure this out without trying and failing at one or the other?
In my decades of personal ministry experience and years of conversations with hundreds of pastors, I’ve found three methods that can help with that decision.
Method #1: The Heart Assessment
What type of ministry stirs your heart the most?
Does the prospect of spending time doing the following activities fill you with joy or dread?
- Visiting a sick church member
- Spending time at a church potluck
- Helping out in a soup kitchen
- Pastoral counseling
Now ask the same question with the next list:
- Meeting with the graphic design team
- Brainstorming ideas with staff members
- Raising funds for a new church building
- Strategizing about the church’s future
If your heart is stirred by the first list, you may be called to pastor a smaller church. But if the first list makes you cringe (even if you feel guilty for cringing) and the second list gets you excited, you may be more suited to a bigger church environment.
(You’ll notice I didn’t include preaching/sermon prep, new/old worship music, high/low liturgy, or denominational/theological classifications in those assessments, because those have nothing to do with church size. Big church pastors and small church pastors love and dread those in the same numbers.)
But what do you do if A) you see your ministry passion in both lists, or B) you have a passion for big church methods and ideas, but a skill set that’s more in tune with small church ministry?
Method #2: The Skill Set Assessment
Look again at the comparative lists above. Now, instead of assessing them by your heart, assess them honestly by your skill set. Did anything change?
The truth is, while most pastors want to see their church grow, very few of us have the skill set required to make that happen beyond certain numbers. Not because we’re deficient in some way, but because the massive number of small churches in the world need a massive number of small church pastors.
If wanting a big church was all it took to grow a big church, the ratio of 90 percent small churches to 10 percent medium/big/mega churches would be reversed.
Wanting to be in a big church, but having the gifting for a small church is so common I addressed it in a previous post, What To Do When Your Ministry Passion Doesn’t Match Your Ministry Skill Set. In that article, I wrote “if you have a passion for building a big ministry, but your skills and calling led you to small churches, lean into doing small church well, but bring a big church energy and attitude to it.”
Method #3: The Systems Assessment
The best way to lead a small church is to pastor appropriately for the size you are now, while setting up systems, discipleship and outreach for double your current size.
For example, if you’re pastoring a church of 50, it needs to be pastored like a church of fifty, while developing systems, discipleship and outreach that are suited to a church of 100.
Once you get those in place, if your church grows to fit the bigger systems, discipleship and outreach, you’re meant to grow to that size. Then, at your new size, you do the same thing. Pastor appropriately for that size, while preparing for double.
On the other hand, if you have systems, discipleship and outreach for double your current size, but the church doesn’t grow to that size, maybe you’ve found your ideal size – or at least your right size for right now.
That’s okay. There’s no rule that says your church has to get bigger to have effective ministry.
And, don’t worry, the time you’ve put into creating bigger systems hasn’t been a waste. As I wrote about in The Mission Deserves Margin, having those systems in place will give you an appropriate amount of time and space so you won’t have to be running at 100 percent all the time.
Do What Works
The bottom line is this.
If hands-on, personal ministry is a higher priority for you than coordinating and strategizing with other leaders, you’re likely called to small church ministry. But if overseeing the team that does hands-on ministry fits you better, you’re likely to be more effective in big church ministry.
There are no right or wrong choices here. Just what works for you and the ministry you’re called to do.
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