The first church I served on staff was Lakeside Wesleyan Church in Lakeside, Calif. I was the very part-time youth pastor and lots of other stuff, and a full-time private investigator—just out of college at the ripe old age of 23.
The church had less than 200 in total attendance but was thriving with meaningful ministry. Richard Lauby was the pastor then, and under his watchful eye I learned much in ministry. From delivering my first sermon to reaching teens for Christ, it was a great adventure in learning how to make things happen with modest resources.
I remember those lessons in ministry well. There are so many wonderful memories of tender moments, laughter and big dreams. And of course, lots of late-night pizza! I remember the people’s names and faces—like Lee and Carolyn, Jack, Jennie, Rene, David and Jeannette, and so many more. The memories are so vivid because my time at Lakeside was filled with significant and life-changing ministry.
God does big things in small churches. The point is not the size of your church as much as what God wants to do through your church. Let me ask three questions:
- Is the gospel being taught?
- Is there a vision for reaching people?
- Are lives being changed?
If yes, then keep doing what you are doing! We all want our churches to be larger, but I believe that ultimately the size of your church is up to God. Your job is to serve and lead well with all your heart and leave the rest to Him. I love the saying “Work like it’s up to you and pray like it’s up to God.” That sums it up well.
Six Words for Small Churches
Leaders of small churches often get stuck in the struggles and difficulties of ministry. It is easy to get discouraged but vital to focus on what is good. I’m offering you six key things to lean into. You don’t need to work on them all at once. In fact, with the exception of the last one, you could spend about a year working on them at two months each.
1. Uniqueness. There is a reason that 60 or 90 or 140 people have chosen to attend your church over all the other choices in the area. There is something that makes your church special—it’s your “secret sauce”! It’s part of your unique DNA, and you need to know what it is and lean into it. It might be wonderful worship or a compassionate culture or perhaps a particular ministry that God is blessing in your community. You can’t make it up or force it. You can’t sit in a meeting and decide what you want it to be. It’s already there, and you need to discover it and leverage it as a force for good in your city.
2. Agility. A big church is something like an aircraft carrier. It is powerful and can do much good, but it can’t move or turn fast. It can get bogged down in the complexity of operations. A small church is more like a speed boat; it is fast and can turn on a dime. That’s a powerful feature in a local church. You can make decisions faster and respond to the needs of people and your community quickly. You can sense what God is up to and jump in. It’s easier to experiment with a new ministry for a short time. If it gains traction, you keep going; if not, shut it down and ask God for the next endeavor. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but do keep your list of ministries very short.
3. Intimacy. This is one of the most common things people love about small churches. The closeness, connection and fellowship are fantastic. It helps people feel at home and cared for in your church. Enjoy all that this brings! It can, however, be a two-edged sword, so keep a keen leadership eye toward balance between intimacy and inviting new people. As long as you genuinely welcome new people, this sense of closeness is one of the best things you have going. Encourage your congregation to make friends in the community and invite them to church. Don’t make inviting a program for a special “big day”; encourage it as a lifestyle.
4. Creativity. Some of the most creative things come from small churches with very modest means. When you don’t have lots of staff, money and people, it’s really cool to see how creative you can get. Focus on what you do have, not what you are without. It’s not always easy, but it can be inspiring and often fun! People in the community will volunteer for special projects, businesses will give you equipment, and local politicians will lend their influence. You need to dream, be creative and ask for help. I don’t mean help for the little underdog church but for the innovative, nimble and efficient small church that loves people and wants to make a difference. Christmas is right around the corner, so start thinking now about something special you can do.
5. Seeds. In order to grow and multiply your ministry, we as leaders need to be sowers of seeds. There are so many kinds of seeds to sow. Love, kindness and compassion are one group of seeds that return great dividends in time. Generosity and encouragement form another group. You and your church are probably good at those already. Another kind comes from thinking big and thinking unusual for a small church. For example, would God allow you to raise up several young next-gen leaders to send out into pastoral ministry? Perhaps you could send a missionary or even plant a church! Planting these kinds of seeds has a way of extending the scope and reach of your church in really big ways. And in my experience, God always blesses when you give yourselves away.
6. Favor. God’s favor is not reserved for big and powerful churches. In fact, I believe He’s looking for humble and available churches that want to reach spiritually unresolved people and lift up the name of Jesus regardless of their size. God’s favor is indeed a mystery. We can’t buy it or get it upon demand. Yet it’s not mysterious. We know God wants to bless His church! Sometimes it’s no more complicated than asking God for His favor upon your church, and other times it’s about patiently waiting and continuing to be faithful in doing the right things.
God’s favor isn’t a magic bullet for church growth. It’s a divine touch that brings the supernatural into the natural. It provides life change and momentum. Favor is as much about grace as it is kingdom power. Favor is that holy presence that makes hard work become fruitful results.
May God bless you with much favor. And I pray that your heart is renewed and encouraged for the unique ministry positioning that small churches play in the kingdom of God.
Dan Reiland is executive pastor of 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Ga., listed in Outreach magazine as the No. 1 fastest-growing church in America in 2010. He has worked closely with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY. His semi-monthly e-newsletter, The Pastor’s Coach, is distributed to more than 40,000 subscribers. Dan is the author of Amplified Leadership, released in January 2012.
For the original article, visit danreiland.com.
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