A version of this article originally appeared on Outreachmagazine.com.
I come from a small business family. Growing up my dad owned an industrial painting company and at one point my parents opened up a restaurant called JBL’s Paparazzi Pizza and Deli—JBL being the initials of both my brother and me. I’m sure my upbringing plays some role in my entrepreneurial spirit as a pastor and church leader.
I think the era of the mega-church and the celebrity pastor has casted a dark cloud on the small church and the common pastor. Our entire church culture, at least the one that celebrates the big, [unintentionally] disparages the small church and her pastors.
There are two particular manifestations of this. First, as many point out today, who forms the speaking roster for the popular conferences? Those of large churches and known organizations. Second, take the criteria for Christian search firms. If you have pastored small churches for your entire ministry, your resume is likely not going to rise to the top for a church position in a much larger church. However, someone who has worked in a supportive role for a few years in a larger organization will be seen as one better suited for the much larger position. It’s not that these are wrong, they just seem to be the reality.
What it seems we have done in the church culture over the years is mirrored the larger culture. As a culture we are constantly looking at the numbers of the DJIA (Dow Jones), Nasdaq, and the S&P 500 to measure the overall health of the economy. Take the DJIA, it only contains 30 stocks, which contain some of the largest, richest, and most heavily traded companies in the US—companies such as Apple, Visa, Walmart, Disney, McDonald’s, and Nike. The Nasdaq index contains over 3,300 stocks whereas the S&P 500 includes 500 companies from all sectors of the economy that have stocks listed on either the New York Stock Exchange of the Nasdaq.
According to the Small Business Administration there are a variety of definitions (due to the metrics of annual receipts and employees) of what constitutes a small business. According to a SBC press release back in 2019 small businesses account for 44percent of US economic activity. Just think, almost half of all US economic activity comes from small businesses! Yet as a nation we tend to gauge our overall economic health off of the biggest and wealthiest companies. While this might be the way of our culture, this shouldn’t be the way of the church.
Learning from the power of small businesses, I want to present four powerful elements of a small church that, if embraced, will help our church culture reimagine the advantages of small churches.
There is a power of mission for small churches.
Just as our economy needs small businesses, so too does the mission of God need small churches. It is estimated there are somewhere between 380,000 and 400,000 churches in the US. According to a 2019 study from Exponential by LifeWay, almost 70percent of US churches have less than 250 people in their worship attendance. Just imagine if all the small churches ceased to exist. Think about all the lampstands throughout the country—in rural areas, in hard-to-reach places—that would go out.
Mission participation isn’t predicated on the size but faithfulness of a church. Therefore, we must never lose sight of the mission power of small churches—both in their salt and sending capacity. If you are part of a small church or a small church pastor—the Great Commission of making disciples of all nations needs you!
There is a power of adaptability for small churches.
Adaptability is a double-edged sword in the case of both small business and small churches. It seems that many small businesses and churches have difficulty adapting to a changing context. Yet, their size positions them to be more flexible and adaptable to changing contexts.
Pastors and church leaders of small churches would do well to cast vision regarding their size. They need to see their size as an advantage not a disadvantage, an opportunity not a liability. Especially as the church emerges from the pandemic, smaller churches are better positioned to make some much-needed changes in order to adapt to a shifting and changing culture.
There is a power of connection for small churches.
The iconic sitcom Cheers embodies the power of connection for a small business. Cheers was a place where everybody knew your name. Personal connection and relationships definitely give small businesses an advantage. However, once again, this might be seen as a double-edged sword in smaller churches. Why? Because in smaller churches people tend to know the junk in your trunk.
The smaller churches that can create a safe haven for people with personal baggage, where they will be loved and cared for by a group of broken people who also are in desperate need of a gracious and saving King. Smaller churches that can do that will take advantage of the power of connection that so many people search for today.
There is a power of simplicity for small churches.
The smaller an organization the simpler it can be. Notice I stated, “can be.” The larger an organization becomes the more they have to fight for simplicity. A larger organization by nature becomes more complex. As a missiologist and as one who has studied organizational leadership, the more complex something is, the harder it is to lead, scale, and reproduce. That is why many businesses and churches find themselves, the larger they grown, adding, managing, and maintaining.
For smaller churches there can be a simplicity in your size if you embrace it.
First, your size means you can look for someone who doesn’t have to have complex organizational skills. This doesn’t mean to look for someone with no leadership skills or pastoral call. Have you ever read the qualifications of what many small churches look for in their next pastor? Even Jesus wouldn’t meet many of their expectations.
Second, your size means you can focus just on a few things, and do them well, rather than trying to do everything. Again, let your size be an advantage not a disadvantage. I’ve heard many small churches and small church pastors say things, “We can’t compete with the children/student ministry down the street.” Stop thinking that way! Concentrate of the few things you can do well and excel at them. In doing so, you will leverage the power of small.