I once invited a worship leader from a huge church (over 10,000 people in attendance) to speak at our church. I named the seminar, “Thinking Like a Big Church” which I thought would be motivating to church leaders in our area. When I mentioned the title to the large church worship leader he began to laugh. He said that his Senior Pastor has been running around telling all the staff that we need to start “thinking like a small church”.
In addition to serving on part-time staff at our church, once in a while, I’m the fill in preacher at a small church connected to our church. Though only 16 miles away, the culture of the community and church is very different from ours. The church is a small white building on the corner of the one of the main intersections in town. There is an upstairs sanctuary and a downstairs fellowship (with really low ceilings). Some great and amazing spirit led stuff is happening in this church and community. There are about 45-50 people and it’s growing!
Last time I was there was for a weekend event for kids and students and I began reflecting on this comment of thinking like a small church. Here are 5 benefits to thinking like a small church.
Small churches think in terms of people, not systems. If you want to figure out how to invite people and involve them in ministry, you just rattle off names. You pick your cell phone and call to invite them. You want to have a meeting, you send out 5 texts and set the best time. Much like a small group or a family, they rely on their memory banks and personal connections more than systems and programs for assimilation and connection.
“Community” is not a program. Community is a natural by-product of a small church. The nature of the church is that it’s built on a web of relationships. You don’t have to program in times of community, it’s lived on a regular basis.
Intergenerational activity is a natural occurrence. It’s come to a point in the church that the pendulum is swinging back to a more family friendly model of ministry – worshipping together, etc. In a small church, this is a natural occurrence. There’s typically one worship time and it’s all or nothing as far as age group goes. There may be a children’s message or a children’s church time during the sermon, but the whole group is together. When VBS or other special events happen -all the kids show up and all the same adults they are around all the time. Kids seeing adults live out their faith is probably more important than any other factor in shaping Christ followers.
Leadership from the younger generations is welcomed. I once heard that more ministers come out of small churches than any other. If this is true, I believe the reason would be that students have an opportunity to play, speak, preach, teach, serve, and lead – even in their youth. A small church, filled with personal connections, doesn’t just seen an 11 year old stumbling through a scripture reading on Sunday morning. They see their neighbor’s daughter taking part in worship and learning how to do it. And they are proud of it. They are helping to teach this young person (or at least glad they don’t have to do it).
Care for each other is natural. A small church mindset automatically adds the value of caring for one another. In someways, it’s like family. Folks may not always get along, but when it comes down to it, they are committed to each other. They notice when people aren’t there. They ask about each other. They know if someone has had surgery or is sick. They share prayer requests. They are connected beyond Sunday worship.
Of course, there are downsides to having a small church mindset. But we can learn from the positives. No matter how many people begin attending worship in your congregation, a focus on people will always be a must. You must never outgrow the mission – to invite people to experience Jesus and follow him. To a fault, some churches wind up with other missions. They begin to strive for amazing leadership, more revenue, better buildings, a stronger public image, and a host of other little things. These aren’t bad things for the purpose of making a difference, and in fact they are needed, but they can’t become the focus of the mission. Thinking like a small church will help a church of any size put a focus on the heart of reaching and connecting personally with people in the name of Jesus.
A church doesn’t have to be small to think like a small church. It comes down to being people focused verse institutional focused.