Thursday, November 4, 2010

Helping The Small Church Grow

Helping The Small Church Grow


The small churches demise has been predicted for years. Yet over the years they remain an important part of the faith and life of hundreds of thousands of people. One unknown author's comment was “God must love the small church, after all He made so many of them”. Like the proverbial cat with nine lives, small churches  continually reinvent themselves to provide ministry to their people and their community. While it is true that nearly 6000 churches per year die in America it is my belief that the small church is an essential part of Christ’s work on earth. It is also extremely important to any denomination seeking long-term health to recognize that unhealthy small churches cannot contribute to a healthy denomination. This report is written to encourage small churches to take seriously the challenges, which it faces, and take steps to insure long-term health and growth.

This blog report is also a valuable discussion tool for church leaders, both lay and clergy to enable them to objectively look at their church and it’s future. It also has the specific goal of helping pastors who have struggled to apply growth principles in the small church understand how to best help the small church achieve its full potential in health and growth.

What is a Small Church?

1. Nationally

In the United States the small church has traditionally been defined as one that has 75 persons or less in regular worship. Approximately 50% of all the churches in America fit this description. A closer breakdown of the number shows that 25% of Churches have 15 ‑ 30 people and 25% have 30-75 people.

To help us further understand the size parameters of all churches an additional 25% of churches have between 76 ‑140 people in worship and could be classified a super-saturated single cell churches, 20% have 141 ‑ 350 in worship, 4% have between 351 ‑ 800, and 1% have more than 800. It is again important to emphasize that this number refers to the average worship attendance. Membership figures are often two to three times larger. As my friend Lyle Schaller has pointed out repeatedly, worship attendance is the most accurate way to look at the size of a church.

Understanding the Small Church

1. It is a sociological primary group

The term Primary Group is a term used in sociological anthropology to define certain kinds of groups. They share certain characteristics. Generally a Primary Group has the following characteristics.
a. There are fewer than 60 people in them
b. There are clearly defined bounds of inclusion and exclusion.
c. There are clearly defined mores that control behavior
d. Everyone understands the expectations that are placed upon them
e. They are stable and change slowly.
f. They are hardy. (Like the cat with nine lives)

2. There are different kinds of small churches.

From my observation and discussion with leaders not all small churches are the same. There are at least six different kinds of churches, which all have an attendance that fits the small church profile but are vastly different in terms of their internal dynamic. In the material that follows not everything discussed will apply to every church, but some application of the principles and insights will be helpful to every church.
a. There is a small church in a small community. In many rural areas it is not unusual to see a small church sitting in what looks like a farmers field. If you were to examine the demographic of this ministry area it would not be unusual to find 100 ‑200 residents in the community. The church having an average attendance of 40 people has a 20 ‑40% market share of all the people in the community. Not many urban churches over 2000 could claim such a level of effectiveness in reaching their community.
b. There is a small church that is a family church. In some rural, small town, and even occasionally in larger urban areas it is not unusual to find a church, which is dominated by one family group. It is not unusual to see 40 ‑ 60% and sometimes more of all the persons who attend being related by blood or marriage. The values of the family tend to be the dominating values of the church. Generally speaking permission from the matriarch or patriarch will be necessary before any change can occur.
c. There is the small church that is small by choice. The first principle of growth is that you must want to grow. The truth of the matter is that there are many churches that have made a conscious decision to be small. Intimacy is the dominating value of church life. In understanding different kinds of small groups we learn that the upper size limit for a small group is 35 ‑ 40 people. We could call this type of small church, a small group type of church, but the reality is that small groups could multiply and the level of intimacy could be maintained. This fear of the loss of intimacy is what causes the choice to remain small. It is a maxim in mega churches that the key to becoming large enough to impact their community means becoming small enough to care for people. The celebration/cell pattern found in scripture is often the solution to growing this type of small church.
d. There is the small church because of community transition. This church was at one time much larger but a radical change in the community demographic has found the church out of touch with the community in which it is located. Sometimes it is a racial change; other times an economic change, and at other times a social change. Many of the people who once lived in the community have moved out and the church has not reached new persons to replace the ones who have left. There is quite often a survival mentality in the remaining persons. They may often verbalize the desire for growth but the price to be paid is greater than they are willing to pay. They would gladly accept new people who would conform to their mores but are usually unwilling to make the changes necessary for growth.
e. There is a small church through crisis. Change comes hard for all churches and particularly small churches. People who have been together for a significant period of time have a vested interest in maintaining things as they are. Many times a moral, ethical, spiritual, financial, procedural, administrative, or power crisis may reformulate a church to the point that a small primary group of 30 ‑60 people are all that are left when the crisis is over. This issue is so important that a section of the report will deal with using crisis for renewal and growth.
f. There is a small church through evangelistic neglect. It has been found by studying thousands of churches that in very few cases can transfer and biological additions provide enough new people to replace even normal losses through death, transfer out of the community, transfer to another church in the community, and reversion to the former unchurched state. These losses in even healthy churches range from 8-12.9% annually. Without conversion growth in the 4 ‑ 8% range the additions through transfer in and biological growth are insufficient to replace the losses. Over a period of years the church declines until it reaches the 30‑60 range where the survival instincts of the primary group take over. These churches often have high evangelistic potential and helping them means rekindling the value of doing evangelism.

The Importance Of The Small Church To The Kingdom Of God.

When you look at the press and publicity that is given about God’s work, a disproportionate amount of focus is placed on the larger church. The truth however is that much of what God is doing in the world is being done through small churches. In a recent trip to the rain forest of Brazil I saw church after church with 30 ‑ 40 people who had reached over 90 % of their village. There are many ways in which the small church has contributed to Kingdom Growth.

1. It is reaching people that would otherwise remain unreached because of community size.

2. It is reaching people who would otherwise remain unreached because they fear large groups.

3. The small/rural church has and continues to be the primary source of America’s religious heritage.

4. The small church has provided the training ground for the majority of all full time Christian Workers. (pastors, missionaries, executives, seminary professors etc.)

5. The small church has helped preserve historic Christian values. (they don't change quickly)

6. The small church is a feeder system for larger churches. A survey of large churches has found that there are normally 12‑18 small churches needed to sustain the transfer growth and worker pool that a large church needs. Carl George calls this the feeder‑receptor syndrome. In this model he observes, the small church evangelizes, the big church organizes and assimilates. The health of the small church should be a major concern for larger churches.

7. They do cost effective evangelism. When you dollar cost average the amount of money spent to reach one convert small churches are more efficient than larger churches. The smaller churches total annual budget is often smaller than the dollars spent by a large church to get one convert. In 2006 large churches were spending between $70,000 and $94,000 for each addition by conversion. (As a side note: as a denomination or synodical body if the total dollars spent is divided by the number of converts reached you will find the cost per convert rate. Seeing the direction that this number is going is a clue to observing the effectiveness of your evangelistic endeavors.)

8. They are loyal supporters of associational and convention programs, and mission endeavors.

What Are The Unique Strengths Of The Small Church

1. There is a high degree of unity in the decision making process. Small churches are generally governed by either consensus or by the delegated authority to the matriarch or patriarch. Generally speaking when a change is agreed to it is acted on with little if any dissent.

2. It is often the center of community life. Many times the church is the only place in the community for the traditional religious hatching, matching, and dispatching times. Many times the church is the center of community life and the local food‑bank, the blood drive program of the Red Cross, the local election precinct and community social events are  hosted by the local church. In some communities it is not unusual to notice that the leaders in the church are also the leaders in the community.

3. The small church has the ability to organize people and resources to respond to need. Whether it’s a family with someone sick, or a fire in someone’s home the small church because it is people focused and centered will do what it takes to minister in these times of need.

A small church in a home in
the middle of a Leper Colony
4. It provides a sense of acceptance and intimacy often lacking in larger churches. Research on love conducted by Church Growth Inc. found people in smaller churches felt more love from other members of their church than did those in larger churches. They also had a greater level of confidence that if they ever needed help the people of the church would respond. It is also interesting to note that many times the unloved in our society are also unloved in our larger churches where status, dress and appearance are important. The small church often finds these people in attendance. (Small Salvation Army Corps all around the country provide ample illustrations of this phenomenon.)

5. They tend to be less dependent on the denomination. It has been amazing to see how small churches have continued to minister year after year, with sometimes very little support or benign neglect from their association or convention. Lyle Schaller calls them cats. They have an ability to get by and keep on keeping on with their ministry regardless of what is thrown at them.

6. The power of the peer group builds values and behavior. The larger a group becomes the less likely it is there will be solid agreement about the core values and behaviors expected of individuals. In a small group the power of this peer group not only transmits the values but also provides a strong incentive to conform in behavior to those values.

7. It mobilizes people for ministry. In larger churches it’s not unusual to find only 15-‑30 % of the regular attendees having a role or task they are responsible for on a weekly or monthly basis. In the small church however it’s not unusual to see what approaches 100% mobilization. Many times you will see children of 10 years serving as ushers and receiving the offering, or each family taking a turn cleaning the church, or a rotation of families serving in the nursery. The list could go on. The reason I believe so many people from small churches are in full time ministry today is that from their earliest years they have learned the value and importance of serving God through serving the church.

8. It has the ability to be personal. In the theme song from the popular TV program, “Cheers” the writer, notes the value of the bar. It’s the place where “everybody knows your name”. In the small church we would add “and a whole lot more”. People learn to be themselves without the wearing of masks, which is prevalent in large groups. There tends to be an authenticity in the interpersonal relationships.

9. It moves at a less frantic pace than the large church. In a world that is changing very rapidly and where this change is producing stress and anxiety the small church can provide an oasis that is unaffected by much of what occurs on the outside.

10. It has a unique opportunity for growth. One of the demographic changes occurring is the number of persons moving from cities to rural and small town areas to escape the rapid pace of change, and the deteriorating values they hold dear. They see their move to the rural small town area as a way to return to things as they were. These are things at which the small church excels and with the proper desire and methods can be instrumental in the harvest of souls in this new millennium.

Ten Reasons Why Small Churches Don’t Grow

1. They want to be a small church. The advantages of being asmall church (i.e. intimacy) outweigh the benefits of being a large church.

2. They take too long to develop. If a church does not grow beyond primary group size in the first 2‑3 years it likely never will. Developing excitement and momentum are critical to the power of attraction in starting new churches. If they develop the pattern early of welcoming and receiving new people into their fellowship regularly, that pattern can continue for years to come. If that pattern does not develop after about 3 years the barriers of exclusion become so strong that new people have a great deal of difficulty feeling part of the fellowship.

3.  The power kluge. The power kluge refers to the actual power structure of an organization, and who it is that has the power to make the decisions. For example I’ve consulted with churches where the board comprised only of men never made a decision the first time it came to them. There was a constant deferment pattern to the next meeting. A closer examination found the real power in the church belonged to the women and the men needed to get their wives input and consent before voting. The funny part about this was their constitution clearly stated that only men could be elders and serve on the Board and vote on these decisions.  

      In other churches when a vote is taken everyone looks at a certain man or woman to see if they vote for or against an issue and they vote along those lines. They are simply acknowledging the real source of authority and power in the church. Particularly in smaller churches, rarely is the formal structure of authority the actual source of authority. If the power kluge is not pro-growth the efforts of a pastor to move the church forward in evangelistic growth are often thwarted. Increased size means a loss of power when growth starts to occur and often the power kluge subverts the real purpose of the church and it's task of making disciples. The control of the power kluge weakens as the size of the group goes over 40 but depending on a variety of other factors can be a real threat to all single cell or saturated single cell churches up to the 140 size barrier.

4. They have not learned how to function in any way other than that of a small church. The large church is not simply a small church that has grown. It socially has become a different kind of organization. To use Schaller’s terminology a small church of 40 people might be a cat while a church of 90 people might be a dog.  A dog is not simply a large cat. If the pastors and leaders do not know how to make the transitions through the various size barriers where the nature of the organization changes they will remain stuck at that point.

5. Weak or non-existent infrastructure. The small church is a single primary group. As this primary group reaches its saturation point the only new persons admitted are replacements for others who have left. You can see this pattern. A church has 40 people in worship. Ten years later there are still 40 people but only a few are the original 40. This church has remained as a single cell primary group church. The multiplication of these primary groups is critical for any church wanting to break the 40 barrier the 75 barrier the 140 barrier or the other sticking points where churches stop growing .

6.  Pastoral leadership. Many times the persons who pastor small churches fall into categories that to not bode well for the growth of these churches. They are retired or semi retired and are not about to engage in any new ventures at this stage of their ministry. They are ministers in training who do not yet have the training or experience to deal with a very difficult situation. They are young pastors who take these churches till a larger church gives them a call. They are not committed to these churches for the long haul. There are pastors in crisis who are using this as an opportunity for personal growth and healing and a way to work themselves back into a larger church situation. They are bi‑vocational and find their energy sapped and they do nothing more than maintenance ministry. While these descriptions do not fit every small church pastor enough small churches have had pastors that do fit the descriptions for us to note that pastoral leadership is an issue in small church growth. It often takes multiple years for the pastor of a small church to be considered by the church as an insider worthy of the trust needed to lead the church both deeper in their relationship with God and their missiological endeavors in the community and beyond

7. The failure to build Church Growth principles and practices into the conscience, philosophy, values, and program of the church. Maintenance and survival behavior does not need to be taught. All organizations will drift towards this pattern unless clear steps are taken build growth in. The longer a church waits to do this the harder it becomes. For a pastor seeking to build a growth philosophy into the small church a commitment of 3‑5 years just to get the foundations laid is not unusual.

8.  Facilities. Many times the facility of a small church keeps it small. For example young mothers today are hesitant to come to a church that does not have a nursery. People will generally not come to a church where delayed maintenance has the building at a lower standard than the other buildings in the neighborhood. Illustrations could continue but some smaller churches may want to look at their building and ask if it is a growth-restricting obstacle.

 A few years ago I was consulting with a church of 45 people near Muskegon Michigan. They were discouraged and despondent because in spite of the fact that they wanted to grow and had the potential to grow they still remained small. After extended discussions I discovered they were embarrassed to invite their friends to come to church with them. The parking lot was dirt that became mud every time it rained. The inside carpet was old and dirty because they didn’t want to put in new carpet which mud would be tracked over. The consultation ended with the recommendations that they pave the parking lot, re‑carpet and paint the church and then work out what was their desire and vision for the future. A year later the church had done the work on the facility and had grown to over 100 persons. the renewed pride in the facility had the side effect of people wanting to invite their friends to come

The horizontal axis represents the number of
unchurched relationships. The vertical axis
is the time one has been a Christian. Note that as
the time a person has been a Christian increases
the fewer non Christian relationships the Christian has.
9. Dried up evangelistic potential. Dr. Donald MacGavran observed the principle of Rise and Lift. He observed that before people were Christians virtually all of their friends were non-Christians. When they first became Christian some of the old friends dropped away but they still had many non-Christian friends. The longer they were Christians and the higher they rose in Christian leadership the fewer non-Christian friends they had. Surveys that I have done showed new Christians, (less than one year old in Christ), averaged more than 12 non-Christians as friends. After 3 years it dropped to 8. After 5 years it dropped to six. It was not unusual to find many people who had either been Christians for 20 years or more, or people who had grown up in the church having no non-Christian friends. Growing churches value having relationships with persons who are not Christians. When Rise and Lift has occurred the church will not grow until the nucleus members begin the process of building relationships with the unreached.

10. Recreating yesterday. A favorite exercise in consultation is to draw a time line of past, present, and future. People are then asked to put an X on the line to indicate where they believe the best days of the church to be. If the X is placed sometime in the future it is the dream that motivates the church and they energy is put into making the dream a reality. In many churches the X is placed on the line somewhere in the past. When this is done the energy is put into recreating yesterday and the church remains small.

What Are The Unique Problems Of The Small Church

While all churches face problems, there are unique problems common to the small church. Ten of the most common are outlined here.

1. A defeatist attitude. Many if not all small churches at some point in their history attempted to grow. For whatever reason those efforts failed. The end result is, that today, many small churches suffer from a poor self image caused by these failure experiences. The words “we’ve already tried that here, and it doesn’t work” are heard when any new method is suggested. They act defeated rather than seeing themselves as conquerors who “can do all things through Christ who strengthens”.

2. Limited income. Small churches struggle to pay the bills and keep the church going. It is important to note however that limited income does not mean inadequate resources. If the furnace goes out, or the roof blows off and takes thousands of dollars to repair the small church will find a way to get the work done. In seeking to help the small church, recognize they give to clearly perceived need, not budgets. One small Lutheran Church I know with less than 25 people gives over $5000 per month to missions. They have seen the need and have a vision and give sacrificially to meet those needs. Small Churches need to be reminded that “my God shall supply all of your needs according to His riches in glory”.

3. Inadequate or poorly maintained buildings. Because most of the participants have been in the building for a long time they fail to see its power to either attract or repel. Schaller suggests a good way to evaluate the building is to establish a task force made up of the following; a young mother with a first born child under the age of one, a doting grandfather who has influence with the trustees, and a militant grandmother who won’t let the issue die. None of the aforementioned need be members of the official board. Two additional members I’ve found helpful  is a new member who has been in the church less than one year and someone from the target group in the community who has yet to come to the church. It’s also helpful to note that in Schaller’s recommendation, and this consultant’s observation, it is helpful to have this group dominated by women. If the men look after it don’t be surprised if the nursery is in the spare corner of the furnace room.

4. Poorly budgeted programs. One cost saving technique used by smaller churches is to recycle old Sunday School and other resources and undercut the budget for new resources. The “make do with what we have” mindset reduces the quality and effectiveness of ministry. A financial tip is to set up the small church budget so people pledge to cover the cost to adequately fund the various programs and ministries.

5. Short Term Pastorates. This item was discussed previously but it needs to be emphasized that the call to the small church needs to be taken seriously and those accepting such a call need to make the commitment to be there for the long haul to allow God to work in and through them to affect his purposes.

6. Lack of Long Range Planning. Part of this is caused by the focus on yesterday, but the majority of the problem centers around the fact that there is no compelling redemptive dream that has been built. It has been my observation that regardless of church size when the dream is strong, people will plan and work towards its accomplishment.

7. Resistance to change. The phrase “we’ve never done it that way before” could be the theme song of the small church. While change may come slowly, for growth there must be change.

8. Old unsettled grudges. There are small churches that are organized against an enemy and bitterness and animosity controls the life of the church. Until the cleansing stream of God’s grace washes that bitterness away, and until there is repentance, those unsettled grudges will stymie any growth endeavors.

9. Few Leaders, Few Followers. Many times looking at the small church you get two feelings. One is; if someone would lead I’d follow. The second is; I’d lead if I knew someone would follow. This lack of articulation and willingness to accept the roles of leader/follower has the small church immobilized.

10. Low expectations. Many times our expectations for the future are based on our experience of the past. When a church has remained small for an extended time with few results it becomes hard to believe much will change even with a new effort.

The Crisis And Growth for the Smaller Church

Change comes hard for all of us, the small church included. We all have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. We enjoy this sense of equilibrium. There are five elements of organizational crisis. How we approach it and how we handle it can give the once stagnant church a new impetus of growth.

1. An issue becomes a crisis when it is perceived to threaten the survival of the institution. The fact that the church has not grown is generally not perceived as a crisis. If the building is without heat, that’s a crisis. The effective leader knows that in times of crisis we can not only respond to the crisis but also work at reordering our priorities.

2. A crisis is an issue that forces attention upon itself; “now” is of the essence. A crisis has a built in sense of urgency. Change even radical change can take place in a very short period of time. For example: The parsonage has become weather‑beaten and worn. The previous pastor to no avail tried to have it refurbished and was denied. A new pastor is about to come and mountains can be moved to get the parsonage fixed. Since crises focus on the “now” make growth part of today’s agenda.

3. A crisis shows up the weakness of the old way of doing things. Congregations that have persisted in counter‑productive behavior are suddenly willing to change attitudes and actions if for no other reason to insure this crisis doesn’t happen again.

4. In a crisis the laity are willing to do whatever it takes to bring about a successful resolution. For example: A pastor resigns. People who have never preached or led worship will find the courage and faith to step out and do it. This willingness to accept things different than the norm and the willingness to experiment with new ways of doing things is the blessing of a crisis. Channeling this energy to growth activities is the task, challenge and opportunity of crisis leadership.

5. Crises are made up of manageable components that scripturally handled lead to growth. Without saying God causes all our crises there is a scriptural principle that God will shake us and stir to move us towards his agenda. In the book of Acts the early church faced crises of discipline, organization, leadership, and persecution. Yet, it was recorded that in spite of the crisis the Lord “added to the number”, the “number of disciples was multiplied”, and the “number of churches increased daily”. When pastors begin to see crises as growth opportunities they will be less likely to leave and will stay and have the joy of seeing churches be reborn to a new vitality in mission.

Essential Qualities For A Small Church Pastor

1 Visioning Capacity. The pastor must have the ability to see the church for what it can be by God’s grace rather than simply what it is now. This ability to envision the future, share that vision with conviction, and help people in the church come to believe and act on it are absolutely essential.

2. Intrinsically motivated. When the pastor recognizes that the majority of the people are quite content to have things remain as they are it is very easy to settle into a pattern of efficiency in accomplishing those expected tasks and responsibilities. The key issue needed in the character of the leader is the intrinsic motivation to do those things which are creative and that will allow the church to minister with effectiveness.

3. Do Essential Tasks. Studies of pastors of small churches that have moved off the plateau have noted that there are three behaviors that are common denominator essentials.

·      The pastor has a daily regular time of prayer that lasts at least 30 minutes and more desirably an hour. It was also noted that 30% of that daily prayer time was spent in harvest oriented prayer.
·      There are 3‑5 leaders who are being mentored and developed. Pastors who have led their church to growth understand that the secret to ministering to more people is to intensify your ministry to a few significant people. The danger in the small church is to try to spend equal time with everyone and ignore this principle.
·      There is regular personal evangelism being done by the pastor. In the major study done on this subject it was found that at least 20% of the face to face ministry contacts made in the course of the week where made with unreached persons.

4. Personal Resources.  There are certain personal resources of character and attitude that are common denominators of pastors who have successfully led small churches to new growth.
·      Confidence
·      Optimism
·      Courage
·      Resilience
·      Tenacity
5. Good People Skills There are certain people skills that if developed will assist the pastor in being an effective leader.

·      The ability to listen
·      The ability to build deep meaningful relationships with people.
·      The ability to spot potential tensions and conflicts between people and help resolve them
·      The ability to challenge and motivate people to participate in ministry.

How New People Become Part Of A Small Church

When we consider that the small church has tremendous potential for both effective ministry and growth it is important that we understand the unique pathways into the small church.

1. You are born into the Church. A child of the church always feels welcome. Even if they move away for years and then return, the fact that they were born into the church gives them and immediate sense of acceptance.

2. You marry into the Church. It is not unusual to see someone from the church marry outside the church and his or her new spouse is accepted almost immediately. It is truer when a man marries a woman who is from the outside than when it is a woman who marries a man. Interviews with persons who fit these categories tell us that it takes anything from 3‑12 months before they really feel it’s “my church”.

3. You have something the Church needs. If the church has no pianist or organist and a new visitor comes to the church the first question they are asked is; “Do you play the organ?” If the answer is “yes” the acceptance is immediate. The same holds true if the church needs Sunday School teachers, or a carpenter to help with repairs. If a person brings something to the small church they need, want, or desire they will be accepted.

4. You are sponsored in by the “permission” giver. When the person, or persons in control personally bring someone new to the church the person who brought them is their door of entry.

5. You have an extroverted personality. I have observed people who have outgoing, bubbly, engaging personalities, who, when they come to a new group make their own door of entry. They get in because you really can’t keep them out. They also usually are blessed with the type of personality that does not read signs of rejection. Over a period of time they are gradually accepted.

6. You have come to spiritual birth through a member of the church. When a member of a small church has been instrumental in seeing a new person come to faith in Christ they will do whatever it takes to insure this new spiritual child of theirs is admitted. Their desire to see the new believer cared for and nurtured is so strong that if their attempts to get the person accepted are rejected they will leave the church and go with their new convert to another church. It is not always true that the new converts of the pastor’s personal ministry have this same level of acceptance.

Applying Growth Principles to the Small Church

Church growth principles will work in any church but the principles have to be contextualized to the ministry environment. The following are things learned and observed from small church pastors who have struggled successfully to apply growth principle and have seen them work.

1. Recognize that growth starts first with desire, and the willingness to pay the price, followed by an ability to envision the future for the Church God intends.

2. Take time. It is important to gain people’s trust. It is also important to know “who gives permission” and learn to make that person or persons your allies.

3. Be personal. Pastors have told us time and again that people will do things for people they like and who they know really love and care about them. When people have the confidence that you like our heavenly Father don’t want to hurt but help them achieve their full potential in God, they will follow your leadership. One pastor in Nebraska told of spending hours helping some of the farmers in his church at harvest time. In the winter they came to him and asked the pastor how they could help him now that their busy season was over.

4. Maintain moral. The characteristic of a good small church leader is to see the positive in each situation. To keep people’s dream of growth for their church alive through tight budgets, limited resources, few workers etc. is essential pastoral work.

5. Recognize the changing context of ministry. Members of the church are most often far more advanced in their thinking and activity outside the church than inside it. Challenging people to think through how their life has changed and how that needs to impact us and the way we do ministry is a helpful discussion. One example from a very small church in Ohio occurred when the pastor and people discovered that everyone had a video player and viewing Christian music videos was a common practice. The church struggled with having adequate music both for worship and specials. They experimented with using a video projector and screen and found that not only did they like it but they were able to attract young 18‑35 year olds who came to the church and were able to relate easily to the technology.

6. Recognize the opportunity is greater than the expectation.

7. Use the calendar. There are times of the year liturgically and societally when it is easier to get the church to reach out to the community and when the persons in the community are more responsive to the message of the church. Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Mother’s or Father’s days, are some examples. Other ways include festivals around community fairs, homecoming day, community anniversary celebrations, recognition of volunteer fireman, teachers, police etc.

8. Work cooperatively. Many times a small church just doesn’t have the resources it needs. If you are in a community where there are also other small churches the sharing of resources to effect ministry is often very helpful.

9. Find common ground. Pastor after pastor have given me an illustration of finding a goal that the people really wanted to accomplish and helping them accomplish it. It may be paving the parking lot, remodeling the kitchen, starting a youth group (you may have to lead it), or getting a choir. It doesn’t seem to matter what it is. The end result is that when you have helped them achieve their goal they will help you achieve yours.

These insights have been developed by visiting hundreds of small churches over the years. This material was put together to help small churches everywhere. I also have prepared a PPT on the material and if you are a Denominational executive or pastor and would like that PPT for teaching send me an email. My only request is that you give credit to me for the material developed.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Bob. That is one long blog posting. It may be a record. OTH, this is a lot of good information regarding small churches and their dynamics. Thanks for all of the good insights.