The Strategically Small Church (part 2)

Here is a very brief summary of the book, The Strategically Small Church:

The small church is defined as a church no bigger than 500. According to the Harford Institute for Religion Research (the most well-respected group in the U.S. for the study of religious issues, IMHO), there are 177,000 churches in America with fewer than 100 worshipers and another 105,000 churches that are between 100 and 500. Thus, most small churches are less than 100. About 6% of all churches in America (19,000) have more than 500 attendees.

Small churches are uniquely equipped to carry out three vital functions of the church: (1) evangelism, (2) discipleship (including leadership development), (3) passing faith down from one generation to the next.

Small churches, when done strategically, can be more effective than large churches in four areas:

1) Authenticity. Here is the key: Authenticity cannot be a strategy for church growth, if it is, it is no longer authentic.

2) Nimbleness. A lack of “red-tape” makes it easier to change course and meet needs.

3) Equipping. Small church pastors, because they don’t have a ton of programs to run, can equip their members where they are passionate and can encourage their members to see their ministries as being involved in the real world (PTA, little league, etc…)

4) Intergenerational Church. “…young people are not looking for another entertaining, age-specific worship experience. Instead they desperately desire a church that can offer them something they can find nowhere else in the world: a family. This is good news for the church with eyes to see; a family is just what the community of faith is called to be” (p. 126).

And here is a good concluding quote:

“…the primary disadvantage of the small church isn’t our methodology. Neither is it our location, our worship style, or our lack of resources. Our primary problem is perception. Many of us have been trained so thoroughly to imagine ministry success in a particular way, or accoring to particular criteria, that we’ve become disenchanted with our own churches. We can’t stratgize our way out of that mess. What we need is a renewed imagination” (pp. 155-156).

I am interested in your thoughts.


4 thoughts on “The Strategically Small Church (part 2)

  1. Hey Kev,

    enjoyed the read. I do agree that all of these things are benefits to a small church. However, I don’t think they are exclusive to a small church. A strategic church, be it large or small can be equally as effective in all of these categories. Authenticity is simply the ability to be who you are; know who you are and live it. This is being done is churches of all sizes across the nation and because of it they are effective. Nimbleness is a structural issue, not a size issue. Although it is often easier to be nimble when the organization, be it for profit or non profit is smaller, the organizations structured to maintain nimbleness and avoid the red tape by empowering leaders to make decisions unencumbered by the silly structures that churches come up. The leadership structure simplified expedites the decision making to address the issue being and staying nimble. The book Simple Church addresses some of these issues. It is also a simple church structure that allows churches of all sizes to be effective at equipping. Obviously, the larger a church gets the more things it can do, however, a simple church model has already identified who they are and what they exist for and further what they will do and will not do. To be effective, a church of any size will have to say no to most things and yes to the very important ones. Our church does three things. Limiting what you do allows you to be effective at the things you must do to accomplish the mission. Identifying the gifts and passions of the people God connects to your local church to connect in service being one of those things. Intergenerational ministry: I agree that young people are looking for family and a small church is uniquely positioned to provide it. The things that you mention being not what the next generation is looking for are however attractional. Often times churches with the resources to do so, use attractional elements to engage the next generation and the culture of the church (familial) connects them. Although it is harder to sustain that familial culture the larger the church grows, it is not impossible and is being done effectively through the use of smaller connection groups.

    I think the book is a valuable one and those who minister in smaller congregations can gain a lot from it. It is a big deal to minister in a small context and there are great things about it and ministering in a smaller context should not be looked down upon. Big things happen in small churches. I think the questions need to move from what size of church is best to what kind of church is best? Be it large or small, if a church is missional, concerned about it’s co-mission, active in service to God and our neighbors, growing in Christ….then I’d say they’ve got something going on!

    Trust all is well and always enjoy your posts!

  2. Great post – I’ll put this book on my “to read” list.

    A small church “done correctly” can certainly foster deeper levels of community, authenticity, and genuine brotherhood among the members. It’s refreshing to be a part of such a group of believers that bear each other’s burdens, learn and cry together. I love intergenerational worship, and one of the best times of the week is when I get to worship God through music and take communion with my wife and seven year-old son.

    As you mentioned, the “healthy” small church does not resent its size, and it doesn’t necessarily stay small intentionally. The healthy small church doesn’t criticize large churches just because they are large – it recognizes that churches are about God and His purposes, not our own insecurities and competitiveness.

    Unhealthy small churches are sometimes quick to criticize big churches because “they must be doing something wrong/greedy/sinful or they’d be small like us.”

    • Thanks for the post. Maybe our thinking that a large church is more “spiritually successful” than a smaller church is rooted in our tendency to look on the outward appearance, forgetting that God looks upon the heart (I Sam 16:7).

      I particularly agree with point #4. It sees to me that we have lost much of the inter-generational discipleship that God intended within the church because of age divisions in church ministry structure (Titus 2). Furthermore, if we think we must attract lost people to the church with programs and things, are we implying by default that the Gospel alone, as lived and witnessed by the church to the world, isn’t powerful enough to do the work God intended for it to do in building His church? While we can certainly do things to attract people and grow a church in physical numbers (sometimes downright silly at that –>, only the Holy Spirit through the Gospel can grow a church in soundly saved souls. Mark Dever so aptly states in his book “The Deliberate Church” that “what we win them with is what we win them to”. If that’s not the Gospel first and foremost, at best we’re doing a bait-n-switch and at worst we may be creating false converts.

      Let’s simply be be faithful to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:16), obey God’s Word in faith and practice (Mat 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-16, Col 2, Eph 4-6), and trust Him to add numbers to His church body as He sees fit (I Cor 12, Rom 12). God’s work is always big in terms of eternity, regardless of the size of the church. It only appears small or insufficient to us when we view it through the eyes of our fallen human nature.

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