By far, the most prevalent expression of the church throughout history is the small congregation.
More people have worshipped Jesus, been discipled, and reached out to others through the ministry of small churches than through any other tradition, method, format or denomination. Vastly more.
Even today, with the celebration of ever-larger churches, most congregations are still small, and more people worship in them than in any other type of church.
Why We Don’t Do Small Church As Well As We Should
We do small church a lot.
But we don’t always do small church well.
Especially in America and the western world, if a church is unhealthy and ineffective, it is most likely to be small. (That is not the same as saying if a church is small, it’s likely to be unhealthy and ineffective.)
Why is it that even though the small church is the most normative form of church, it’s also the most likely to be done poorly? Here’s a hint: it’s not the fault of small churches, their members, or their pastors.
In my years of studying this, combined with my own experience and conversations with hundreds of small church pastors and members, I’ve discovered that it starts with one misunderstanding.
We don’t always do small church well because too many of us don’t know that small church can be done well.
And if you don’t know you can…
Small and Failed Becomes A Self-fulfilling Prophecy
Instead of being told how many small churches there are, how many of them are doing extraordinary work all over the world, and how small congregations have done most of the church’s heavy lifting for 2,000 years and counting, we’re regularly told that if we’re doing church well at all, it won’t stay small. And that if we are doing it small we must not be doing it well.
This is why there are so few resources to help small churches. If small is equated with failure, why would we create resources to help them perpetuate a failing model? (Or so we think.)
As a result of this faulty thinking, we don’t give them the kind of encouragement or help they need, so they’re more likely to become the failures we believe them to be.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What would happen to small churches if we changed the way we talk about them?
Maybe if we stopped assuming they were all unhealthy (which they’re not, by a long shot), fewer of them would be unhealthy.
We need a new small church narrative.
What if, instead of telling small churches and their pastors that they need to get big to be healthy and effective, we helped them realize they can be healthy and effective at the size they are now?
What if, instead of the constant drumbeat of negativity, we were told about the great things small churches have done, are doing, and can do?
What if, instead of all the teaching being one way (from the big church “successes” to the small church “failures”), we also listened to wise, seasoned small church pastors about the lessons they’ve learned?
What if the most widespread expression of the church stopped being the most overlooked expression of the church and started being valued?
If we knew we could do small church better, more of us might just step up and start doing small church better.
Copyright © 2019 by the author or Christianity Today.
Click here to read our guidelines concerning reprint permissions.
Pivot is a part of CT's
Blog Forum. Support the work of CT.
Subscribe and get one year free.
The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.
Join in the conversation about this post on Facebook.
- A Discipleship Strategy Small Churches Can Actually Follow, with Darrell Stetler (Ep 38)Darrell and Karl talk about the importance of discipleship in the life of the church – and as a central role in our calling as pastors.
- Why Proximity and Longevity Matter in Pastoral Ministry, with Alan Briggs (Ep 36)Karl interviews Alan Briggs, a pastor, the author of Staying is the New Going, the host of the Right Side Up Leadership podcast and StayForth.com.
- Seculosity: Ministry In The Era Of Secular Religion, with David Zahl (Ep 37)Karl Vaters interviews David Zahl, author of Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It.
- Should You Start a Podcast? And Positive Ministry Trends, with Aron Utecht (Ep 35)Karl Vaters interviews Aron Utecht, a pastor and the host of the Good Ideas for Churches podcast