In this first article, we’re going to focus on small churches. For the purposes of this conversation, we will include churches that are 200 or less.
More than the number, the key factor that drives the small-church mindset is the value that everyone should know everyone.
That value impacts just about everything that the church does. The good news is that this value can also be leveraged to produce both health and growth in a way that larger churches can’t really reproduce.
By the way, these dynamics come into play whether it’s a single-location church or a campus of a multisite church. That’s why it’s so critical for multisite churches to think about the size of the campus they’re launching from day one. If the new campus is a significantly different size than the sending location, it will also start with a significantly different culture.
Don’t misread the premise of this article. I’m not suggesting all churches under 200 are stuck. Every church of every size can get stuck.
There are some challenges, though, that seem to be common in small churches. Here are seven of them:
They maintain an insider-focus.
Everything they do is designed with the person who already attends the church. They use insider language. It’s reflected in the design of the worship and teaching. The ministry programming is for insiders. Guests in any of the church’s ministry environments really aren’t expected.
As you might imagine, the perception that church is for people who already attend church really limits the incentive to invite someone new. You can’t fix that with evangelism programs and training.
The senior pastor does all the ministry.
The is one of the key distinctions between small and mid-size churches. When a church is small, the senior pastor can greet every person, know everyone’s name, attend every family celebration, pray for every meal, make every hospital visit and teach every Bible study. The pastor is expected to do everything. To grow beyond the small-church mindset, the pastor has to take the lead in equipping God’s people to do the work of God. The senior pastor has to learn how to give ministry away to others.
They value busyness over relationships.
Even small churches can quickly become over-programmed with services on Sunday and Wednesday, Bible studies, men’s or women’s gatherings, all-church events, etc. The challenge in small churches is that the expectation is that everyone is going to attend every event. That can quickly become overwhelming. All that activity also limits the amount of time people have to build relationships outside the church.
Everyone has a vote.
That’s the way decisions tend to get made in small churches. Even with decisions that don’t actually involve a vote, everyone still has a voice. In instances where there are dissenting voices, even if they’re the minority, that’s enough to veto and stop a decision. Why? Because there’s an expectation that you need consensus from everyone for change to be implemented. Unfortunately, getting consensus from everyone many times prevents good ideas from moving forward.
They are unwilling to move to two services.
This is a tough one, but it’s probably one of the keys to moving beyond 200 people. You can’t do this too soon because you’ll lose critical mass. Getting to two services, though, will help with several key attributes of healthy churches. First, it gives people options. This is important particularly for guests. You also open up opportunities for people to attend a service and volunteer. Additionally, you begin to move beyond the limiting factor of everyone needing to be in every gathering together.
The teaching doesn’t provide life application.
It’s just focused on imparting biblical truth. I’m a fan of biblical truth, but it needs to also lead to practical next steps. The challenge is that teaching that offers life application is harder than teaching just to increase knowledge. I can give you facts all day long. Helping you put that knowledge into action so that it leads to transformation is completely different.
The good news is that you don’t have to get consensus for the congregation to change the way you teach. You can begin that this Sunday.
They want different results without any change.
That’s not going to happen. I could give you all kinds of biblical references to new wine in old wineskins here, but that probably won’t help either. At some point, the pain of staying the same needs to be greater than the pain of change. Let’s pray it doesn’t take a crisis to get to that point. When the right group of people in the church feel that type of pain, though, there’s hope.
By the way, I’m not smart enough to come up with this list on my own. I’d like to thank my team and theFacebook community for your help. In our next article, we’ll take a look at the challenges that mid-sizechurches face.
By Tony Morgan, founder and chief strategic officer at The Unstuck Group, a company that helps churches get unstuck through consulting and coaching experiences designed to focus vision, strategy and action. He writes about leadership at tonymorganlive.com. Follow Tony on social media: Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn