Small Church

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I think there is too much focus on large churches. For example, material on breaking the 200 barrier abounds. But the thing is that 60% of the churches in North America self-report attendance less than 100. And many of them are declining. Breaking any growth barrier is an irrelevant issue until you are at least breaking even let alone in decline.

Study this chart if you need to readjust your thinking.

Range# of Churches% of ChurchesAttendance% of People
7 to 99177,00059%9,000,00025%
100 to 499105,00035%5,000,00014%
500 to 99912,0004%9,000,00025%
1,000 to 1,9996,0002%8,000,00022%
2,000 to 9,9991,1700.39%4,000,00011%
10,000 Plus400.01%700,0002%

Many more people attend the larger churches but there are many more smaller churches. You will notice only about 6.4% of churches ever get to over 500. But by the coverage, you see you might expect that any church less than that isn’t worth talking about. Wrong!

So let’s think about the attitudes in small churches. You are going to need to swim upstream if you are the normal size church with 50-100 in attendance.

Rule #1: Never let your small church make you small minded.

You can have a big influence on a lot of people. Your parking lot may not be as big as somebody else’s, but if you have a dozen people you have a big influence on them as represented by the six cars in the lot.

Rule #2: Never apologize for being small.

This might surprise you but many people prefer small. Many others don’t know how to define big and small when it comes to churches.

Rule #3: Never let your small church make you dream beyond potential reality.

If you have a big old auditorium with people crowded at the back looking at several rows of the Wood family in front of them they will feel defeated. Do something. Get rid of half the seats. Put planters behind the last row you want people to sit in. Pad the pews you want them to sit in. Dim the lights around the perimeter. Get the people you have to crowd together. Create a feeling of intimacy within a big space. You can dream about filling one more pew by next week — not ten.

Rule #4: Never let your small church make you choose laziness.

Face it; it is easy to get lazier if there are fewer people to service. Take care of the people you have but don’t dote on them. Get out there and talk to more people and invite them to join you. Teach by example. Have at least one fresh story each week about how you crossed the street to talk to someone. You don’t want to get too specific on the details and certainly don’t want to expose names but tell some interesting story every week about a waitress or a person you met in a parking lot.

Rule #5: Never let yourself become small because you (or others) think your church makes you small.

The greatest defeat is the one in your own soul. It is hard going to find people for your smaller church. People who are used to church usually want a place where the buzz is louder. You can create enthusiasm in a small crowd. Learn how to smile wider and warmer. Learn how to get rid of the defeated preacher whine that shows you think your church is a victim. Nobody but a sadist wants to go to a victimized church. Care. And show you care. You can be the biggest little church for miles around. Genuine interest and friendliness go a very long way.

But there is another problem here. Pastors who dreamed of pastoring a church of a thousand when they were young end up in a church of 50 and put their chin in their hands with their elbows on their knees. They believe they have lost because they think others think they are losers. There are no losers among those who get up every day and do everything they should do that day. Get busy for the King! And enjoy the ride in the Kingdom! You place in the Kingdom is important. Somebody has to work in that small church. It may as well be you.


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