There is a definite trend for the larger churches in a region to resource and help lead the smaller churches. Has the work of larger churches in the broader church replaced some of what denominational headquarters have typically done?
The number of churches that are reaching over 1000 people is up significantly in the last ten years. And many of these churches feel called to serve in ways traditionally covered by conferences, regions, areas, presbyteries, and associations. Here are some examples:
1) Adding New Congregations / Campuses
Larger churches are planting churches more quickly than the denominational offices are. At times, denominational leadership is partnering with the larger church, but overall, new congregations, new campuses and new services are mostly being started by the churches who are over 500 in attendance.
2) Incorporating Smaller Congregations
Many larger churches are being officially connected to smaller congregations in the region. The larger churches are either inviting the smaller church in or they are invited to pull them in. This results in small mergers, building / property acquisitions for future mission and ministries in a particular area and sending leadership to help infuse life into dying congregations.
3) Offering Training and Development to Local Church Leaders
Larger churches typically have a desire to be teaching churches. Many large church leadership teams host conferences and training events, write material to publish and share, and host podcasts, blogs and other resources. Leaders from smaller churches who typically may have attend a denominational event, now attend an event hosted at one of the large and growing churches – sometimes locally and sometimes across the country.
4) Raising Up Lay Leadership
Larger churches are raising up lay leaders through significant ministry leadership and training. Through multifaceted leadership opportunities, lay leaders are being raised up as pastors, teachers, and administrators and facilitators in campus churches. Expectation is raised as leaders are developing new worship opportunities, teaching in small groups, and being send to help lead in other congregations. As the large church seeks to grow smaller through more worship venues and more small groups, there is a growing need for leaders in each of those areas. These leaders are spilling over into the church at large. (Smaller churches also have a great benefit to develop leaders through relationships and opportunities)
5) Providing Resources for Other Ministries to Use
Larger churches have used their resources to create, develop, publish resources and ministry support. Life Church TV created the YouVersion bible app, Willow Creek, the forerunner in providing resources for local churches, has created curriculum for years. Many large churches create media content and other creative ideas and – and share them. Additionally, some large churches host events, inviting people to attending each year, subscribe to ongoing material through the year, or inviting them to buy into an association or other group. Another aspect to providing resources is through large initiatives, missions and giving. The larger churches can create high impact and high profile giving opportunities for mission and ministry around the world.
These are five examples of a small shift in how many local churches are becoming resourced. The denominational headquarters and offices still provide a structure for accountability, leadership for pastors, discipline, financial support, insurance details and other structural aspects to the ministry. But when it comes to supporting the practical ministry of the smaller local church, some of it is beginning to land on the shoulders of larger church leaders. How should denominational leaders respond?
Excel in relationships. Know the churches and pastors personally. Build relationships with new leaders, and leaders who will then help support and work with other area leaders. Deep and meaningful relationships are key to geographical ministry areas.
Excel in partnerships. Be willing to partner with and support the ministries and resources offered through the largest churches throughout the geographical area served. Partner with national organizations for ministry. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use the time to connect with your churches and leaders.
Excel in vision for the local church. Continue to help each church stay tuned to the mission of reaching their community for Christ.
Excel in funneling. Go lean and mean as a denomination leadership team so that local churches are able to have all the funding they can for ministry in their particular context.
Excel in support. A servant heart for supporting the pastor and church is the key obligation for any denominational leadership team member. This is the trump card.
Throughout this trend, smaller churches should be open to learning through churches that are growing and working well, they should utilize all the resources available (through a denomination and through larger regional churches) to help maximize their mission, they should be confident that they are the church for their community, in this unique time in history – to live out the kingdom mission and do the hard and fun work of making a difference in the lives of people through the transforming power of Jesus.
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