Avoiding the Numbers Trap

U.S. churches define success by size. It's time to break the mold.

Ever heard of David Hogg? He taught Sunday school in Blantyre, Scotland, in the early 1800s. In the small church where he taught boys year after year, Hogg certainly had opportunities to question his significance. But his faithfulness and the Word of God ignited a love for the people of Africa in one of his students David Livingstone, who became arguably the greatest missionary to Africa in the 19th century, opening that continent to the gospel.

In the small church or those of us who are pastors of smaller churches, it can be easy to question the significance and impact we are having in our churches and communities compared with larger or more publicly recognized churches. Yet according to the Hartford Religious Institute, 61 percent of all Protestants attend churches with 499 or fewer weekly worshipers. That means the majority of Christians in America are being discipled and cared for in much-needed smaller and midsize churches, led by regular guys like us.

Here's another insightful fact. About 88 percent of America's 3,142 counties have fewer than 150,000 residents. But the combined population of these areas is 90 million. If these counties were a country, it would be the 13th largest in the world.

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If you pastor one of America's smaller churches, or if you pastor in a smaller county or town, I want you to recognize how much your life is affecting the spiritual lives of people in our nation. I want you to see clearly the significant difference you are making as you embrace the potential your future holds.

I recently read about the response the late Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes gave when he was informed that he was the shortest man in the room. He replied, "I feel like a dime among pennies!" That's how you should feel.

I am committed to helping pastors and church leaders who want to build healthy churches that heal America's communities. To that extent, my friends and I formed the Significant Church Network (see below). We have spent our lives building thriving churches in communities that desperately needed them.

My passion for churches in smaller communities was not birthed only because I serve in such a community. The vision was also birthed as I read the book of Acts and applied the principles whenever our church was struggling.

This is what I learned: A significant church is first a place where people are convinced God has the answers, and they have learned to share that reality in a contagious manner as they are intentionally connecting with people who need to experience God. A significant church also builds authentic community that produces people who are committed to the Lord, compassionate toward others, cooperative in the work and developing mature captains who lead the way. This combination produces a conquering church.

Here are some practical steps you can start implementing today to keep you passionate about where God has placed you:

  • Remember--the disciples faced the same fears about building the first church as you do about building your ministry.
  • Believe--Jesus and the right people can help you develop an effective church culture.
  • Work hard--knowing your rewards are eternal.
  • Remind yourself--God alone knows the worth of your ministry.

    Scripture shows that Jesus esteems people who find their significance in who they help, not merely how many they help.

    Jim Graff is the senior pastor of Faith Family Church in Victoria, Texas, and founder of the Significant Church Network.

    Ministry Resource

    Feeling overlooked, overworked and understaffed? If your answer is yes and you pastor a small church (or one in a small town or county), consider joining the Significant Church Network (significantchurch.com), created to support, connect and serve people just like you.

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