I have only been a member of a few churches in my lifetime, and most of those congregations averaged less than 100 members (which, by the way, experts say is true of the majority of American churches). While attending one of those churches, I wrote this list, without the commentary that follows each number. Now that I am pastoring a small church, I am trying my best to take heed of the following in leading my small congregation. It is written from the members’ perspective, because that is the one I know well. This is strictly an opinion piece – one woman’s opinion.
1. Being small does not make us inferior
Being small only makes us small; it does not make us inherently better or worse than any other church. Our size can be an advantage because it lends itself to intimacy. Every time you berate the church or even speak harshly against other churches for being large, you are giving in to the spirit of comparison. That spirit will keep you from giving your absolute best to whatever number of people the Lord has given you to serve. Even though Jesus taught multitudes, His faithful congregation averaged from 12 to 70 members until his crucifixion. At one point, he had as many as 500, and that number dwindled down to 120 on the day of Pentecost. Not once did he complain about not having enough people following Him. And He did not excuse His disciples from the work they were called to do because there were only a few of them.
Granted, those few impacted the world and gave birth to the first megachurch when 3,000 souls were added to the church, but it was the leader’s faithfulness to the few that opened the door for that to happen. As a pastor, how do you know whether one of your faithful few will one day impact the entire world?
2. We don’t all have to do everything
We are a small church. That means that every ministry will be proportionately small. It makes no sense for everybody to be expected to participate in every ministry. We have different gifts, different abilities. If every member is on the praise team, who are we leading in praise? If we are all in the choir, who are we edifying through our songs? By all means, assign everyone to something; but please don’t assign everyone to everything. Pick out those of us who are anointed for particular ministries and allow us to share our gifts with the others.
On that note, cut out ministries that are unnecessary or which we do not have the personnel to support. If we do not have enough people for a choir, what’s wrong with a praise team or ensemble? If we do not have enough children and teachers for various age groups to be separated, why can’t we try a multi-age children’s church/Sunday school format?
3. Treat us like we matter
Whenever you are frustrated by the small size of the congregation, it comes out in your preaching. You act as if we are merely a stepping stone to your mega-ministry and that ministering to us is not worth your time. The bible says that he that is faithful over a few things will be ruler over many. It also says to despise not the days of small beginnings. When you are seeking to become great (meaning numerically large – something about the church is already great to us or we would go somewhere else), do not forget that we are part of the foundation on which your future ministry will be built. Just as the parts of a natural body are not all the same size, the parts of the body of Christ are not either. That does not mean that any one of them is unimportant to God. Don’t make the mistake of letting us become unimportant to you. We will not invite others to a ministry that does not value the people that are already there.
And on that note, please seek God and ask Him if you are called to “mega-ministry” or a “mega-church.” It could possibly be your assignment, even if only for the moment, to pastor a small church. You will frustrate yourself, and us, if you try to move outside of God’s assignment and timing.
4. Tell us what you expect
Cast a vision that shows us what we can do where we are. Paint a picture of what the Lord is telling you this church should be. We are small, not stupid. And frankly, you get what you expect. If you communicate to us that we cannot do outreach because we are small, we won’t do it. If you make us feel like we are not capable of giving, we will live up to the level of your expectation. As the Pastor, you set the tone for the church. The minute you give up on us, you open the door for us to give up on you. Don’t do that – keep hope alive!
Try giving us something to look forward to; something to reach for. Maybe the reason that we are small is because we don’t see where we’re going. Maybe we don’t know the vibrancy of the vision. When was the last time you talked about it? Where is your enthusiasm? You are our leader; we will only go where you take us.
5. Ask us what we expect
Please don’t assume that we don’t have any vision or that we don’t want to see the church go forward. We do. The reason we don’t offer suggestions or ideas is because it feels like they are not wanted. When we become grasshoppers in our own eyes, the spirit of defeat takes over. We want to be able to take ownership in the ministry as well as you do. We know we can’t be the pastor, but we can help you if you let us. Just because the church is small doesn’t mean it has to be a one-man show.
Ask us what we are hearing from God. Ask us how we can help the ministry. Ask us how we can help you and how you can help us. We need to know that our thoughts count; that they are at least considered. If you are ministering to us faithfully, we are growing spiritually, and should be given opportunity to exhibit Christian maturity within the local church. It may not always work out, but let’s at least give it a try sometime.
6. Plan for growth
If you truly believe that our church is supposed to be a mega-church one day (and even if you don’t), please prepare for growth. Equip people to lead and teach us how to follow leadership. Determine how you will deal with newcomers and set the systems in place not for some mystical mark in the future (when we reach 500 or 1000), but now. Strive for excellence now. Engage new believers now. Follow-up with visitors now. Clean up the website and make it more professional now. All the things you are saving for your mega-ministry, try them out on a small scale now. If you do that, you will have them perfected by the time the multitudes come and you will have people ready to help execute your plans.
Make contingency plans and be prepared for problems. The more people you have in your midst, the more trouble will arise. And remember that growth does not always look like what you have in mind. You may need to release some of us into ministry. Those ministries are outgrowths of yours. If you establish someone in ministry and they draw in numbers that eclipse yours, take courage! You are a part of that ministry. Let the Lord determine what form growth will look like in your ministry.
Dear Pastor, never forget that God placed you in His ministry because He had confidence in your ability to lead. He knows how much (and how many) you can handle at any given time. Teach us, your faithful few, how to pray with you and for you. Teach us how to pray for increase, and how to minister so that we can grow together. We want to see you reach your God-given potential, and we want to reach ours too.
What would you add to this list? Take away?
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