Myths About Small Churches

Recently a friend of mine blogged about myths he had heard concerning mega churches. He pastors a mega church and runs in circles with other mega church pastors. I assume he was somewhat offended by the criticisms he hears about mega churches. I don’t blame him. I would be offended as well. I think mega churches are great! I have never been a part of one, but from the outside looking in they look fantastic.

I am more familiar with small and medium size churches. According to the Harford Institute for Religion Research, 98% of churches in the U.S. have less than 1,000 in attendance on any given Sunday; 94% have less than 500 in attendance; 59% have less than 100 in attendance. The median church has 75 regular attendees.

As I read my friend’s blog, I thought about myths I have heard about small churches; and like my mega church pastor, I am offended by these myths. The myths may apply to some churches, large or small, but I don’t think they apply to most small churches. I know they don’t apply to the small church I pastor and the other small churches in my community that we partner with to do ministry.

Myth #1: Small churches like the way they are and they don’t want to grow.

Most small churches I know want to grow, they have a desire to grow, but numerical growth is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is building the Kingdom and loving people. Small churches attract hurting people, and many times, after ministering to the hurting person, bringing them back to spiritual health, that person leaves the small church and goes (or returns) to the larger church. I for one think this is a good thing! It’s like a world class athlete who gets injured and has to leave the big stage to go to physical therapy. Once the athlete is returned to health, he or she returns to the big stage. When that happens, what kind of physical therapist would be mad he lost a patient? Instead, wouldn’t the physical therapist find pride in knowing he did what he was called to do? The sooner both large and small churches recognize their position in the Body of Christ, the sooner we will work together and stop spreading myths about one another.

Myth #2: Small churches are judgmental.

I think this myth is a result of confusion of terms. What one person considers judgmental another person considers authenticity. What one person considers critical another person considers accountability. What one person considers “none of your business,” another person considers, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). You can’t hide in a small church, and that makes some people uncomfortable. Most small churches I know are loving and caring and will give their last dime to help someone else. Most small churches I know accept people unconditionally. At times, however, people don’t return the favor.

Myth #3: Small churches are irrelevant to the community.

I don’t understand this myth at all! Small churches serve on the front lines of the community. Small churches have their ears to the ground, and know everything that takes place in the community. Small churches are the first place people in the community go to for help. My guess is the reason for this myth is because most small churches serve the community anonymously. For example: if a mega church plans to help clean up a neighborhood after a natural disaster, hundreds of people show up and the press highlights the good work (and it is very good, Christ honoring work) and the church’s name is mentioned on the evening news. When people in small churches help the neighborhood day in and day out, it goes unnoticed, accept by the people who have been helped, and by God. If we are all in the Lord’s Army, small churches are the Special Forces who go in first and go in unnoticed. Mega churches are the infantry, who follow the Special Forces, but make the most noticeable difference. The Army needs both, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner friendly fire will cease and the enemy will be defeated. 

Myth #4: Small churches don’t have anything to offer.

As a small church pastor, I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me, “Kevin, we love you and we love this church, but our kids are getting older and we need to find a church with a better program for them.” Or, “Kevin, we love you and we love this church, but we just fill our needs are not being met.” In other words, what they are saying is, “Kevin, we love you and we love this church, but you don’t have anything to offer me.”

Nothing could be further from the truth! Small churches offer relationships. Small churches offer a place for all ages to worship and work together. Small churches offer people the opportunity to be vulnerable, to use their spiritual gifts, to get involved, to make a difference, to grow. Mega churches offer these opportunities as well, but every mega church pastor I know will tell you the best place for those things to take place is in small groups. Well, small churches are small groups that operate 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. (Side Note: I find it interesting that while many small churches spend a lot of time and resources trying to be large, large churches spend a lot of time and resources trying to be small. Would we, as churches, not be better stewards spending our time and resources being the best we can be at who God made us to be, instead of trying to be something we are not?)

After reflecting on these four myths of small churches, I have reached the same conclusion as my friend who blogged about myths of mega churches. God uses all size churches to reach all kinds of people. God needs all size churches to reach all kinds of people. Those of you like me, who live and work in the small church world, need to recognize the need, and important role,  large churches  play in God’s Kingdom and quit spreading rumors about how you think large churches operate. Likewise, those of you who live and work in the mega church world, need to recognize the need, and important role, small churches play in God’s Kingdom, and quit looking down your noses, and spreading rumors, about how you think small churches operate.

We need each other, and we need to cooperate and encourage one another, instead of compete and criticize each other.

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4 thoughts on “Myths About Small Churches

  1. Having pastored a small church and a large church, I often miss the smaller church. It pains my heart every time that someone is hurt, offended and leaves the church because I wasn’t the pastor that was available to be at the hospital with them, counsel with them or do a funeral for their loved one. And the truth is, I understand their pain. They see and hear and come to love me as I minister to them each weekend in the pulpit and when tragedy strikes, they want the guy they feel bonded with. It is simply not possible for me to do what I once did given the size of the congregation and yet I often grieve the loss of being more intimately connected with all my congregation. For all the benefits of a larger congregation, this downside is tough one to swallow. People matter. Their pain matters. And though people are cared for by others on the staff and small group communities, unless a pastor loses his pastor’s heart, this stuff really gets to you. I am very grateful for the small church and often wonder, “Did God ever really want us to get this big?”

    • Hey Keith,
      I did have the privilege of pastoring a larger church in AR (especially by our denominations standards), and I experienced what you have described. I remember going to the hospital to visit people who were dying and a part of my church and I did not know who they were. On another occasion, on a mission trip made up of people from various churches, I asked one of the team members which church she attended, and to my embarrassment she said, “I go to your church.” That hurt. A few years ago I came to grips with the fact that God has called me to be a pastor, not a CEO. I don’t mean that critically. I mean it as a “light bulb” experience of who I am, my giftings, and who God created me to be. That realization has been extremely liberating to me.

      Thanks for your input. I visit your website occasionally, and am impressed with your ministry. Especially your desire for the poor and underserved in our society. That is my heartbeat and the heartbeat of my church.

  2. Great thoughts Kevin! I grew up in a small church and it was the relationships there as a youth (with adults who deeply cared for us and shepherded us) that really made a difference in my life. My sister recently moved back to the small church from a mega church and has experienced a dynamic change in her family (most importantly her children who had a lot at the large church but were lacking in authentic relationships and community). Here in Europe there’s two sizes of church too Large (60-80) and Small (your family up to about 40). Even in these dimensions we see the difference in level of intimacy and community. I can empathize with the larger churches facing challenges in these above areas (of intimacy and community). I think a lot of it has to do with how our world has changed (globalization, individualism, and consumerism). May we get back to authentic lives focused on personal holiness and being the Lord’s blessing to those around us and beyond. Thanks to you and your local church for your example!

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