There are a lot of small churches in the world. Over 90 percent of all churches, by most counts.
Yet perhaps the most common moniker used for small churches isn’t
- Small and normal
- Small and commonplace
- Small and typical
- Or even small and holding strong
It’s small and struggling.
The Unfair Assumption
If that’s how you’ve seen small churches, I have some good news. Not all small churches are struggling. Not by a long shot.
Many of them, like the one I’ve been blessed to serve for over 26 years, are strong, dynamic, effective and have an impact far bigger than their footprint.
Sure, there are a lot of small, struggling churches, too. But it’s unfair, inaccurate and unhelpful to make the assumption that a church is struggling just because it’s small.
The Plateaued Small Church?
The other most popular description for small churches is “plateaued”.
As I wrote about in a recent article, Lifeway Research did a survey of American churches which found that
- 28 percent of churches declined by 6 percent or more
- 33 percent stayed within 5 percent of their previous size
- 39 percent of churches grew by 6 percent or more
In the article about this survey, the author wrote, “6 in 10 Protestant churches are plateaued or declining in attendance ...”
Why are the churches that stayed within 5 percent considered “plateaued”? Why weren’t they referred to as “72 percent of churches are holding steady or increasing in size?”
After all, unless we know a lot more about the churches with no change in attendance, we can’t say if they’re healthy or sick, strong or weak, effective or anemic.
A church that holds steady attendance numbers while sending people off into mission and ministry isn’t plateaued.
Neither is a church that sees 20-25 percent of their members leave every year because they minister to graduating college students.
We Can Do Better
Small doesn’t necessarily mean struggling or plateaued.
But do you know what happens when we habitually use those words to refer to small churches, even when we know nothing else about them?
- They don’t become inspired, they become discouraged
- They don’t feel noticed, they feel ignored
- They don’t feel challenged, they feel belittled
Assuming the worst of a church because they’re not adding to their attendance roster every year isn’t helpful or kind.