I had a dream.
I wanted to bring leaders together from all across Canada so that they could discuss the issues facing small churches in the 21st century. The dream didn’t become reality. The National Forum that we had planned for this September had to be canceled.
The conference on which I had worked so hard was gone. For a few weeks I seriously considered quitting. I am past retirement age and I thought about retiring and spending the rest of my life in quiet contemplation. Then I decided that I couldn’t do that.
The National Forum wasn’t going to happen but the issues hadn’t disappeared. They were still there and small churches still had to face them. I believe that God is still calling me to do something about that.
From the books that I have read, the people with whom I have talked, and the small churches that I have visited, I have discovered four big-picture issues that small churches face. In this entry I want to introduce these issues and then in the weeks ahead I want to look at them one at a time.
1. How does a small church build a quality leadership team?
A short time ago I was listening to the pastor of an American mega-church brag about his leadership board. He talked about the quality of the people who made up the board, about their experience as leaders, and about how well they worked together. It was obvious that he was proud of the people who led his church.
As I listened I couldn’t help but think that there were about twenty-five thousand people attending that church. They came from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. It should not be that difficult to find seven or eight leaders among the thousands of people who are members of his church. I’m guessing that for every person accepted onto the leadership team, there were dozens of other qualified people just waiting to be chosen.
If, as I believe, leadership is everything in a church, how does a small church build a quality leadership team? There may be no more important question that small churches can ask.
2. How does a small church function with limited resources?
I have asked people in small churches what is their greatest frustration in doing ministry within the church family or outside the church walls in the community. About 85% of the time the answer that I receive focuses on a lack of resources.
We want to do more but we don’t have enough people. We would like to run a larger children’s program but we don’t have the facilities. We know that we should do more evangelism but we lack the funds to run a good program. We know that it’s important to have good music but we don’t have people with musical gifts.
Small churches to a great degree are shaped by their lack of resources. Churches are considering moving to a part-time pastor because they can’t afford to pay a full salary. Leaders hesitate to endorse new programs because they are having a difficult time paying for the programs they are already running. Maintaining an old building eats up any extra resources that they might have.
How does a small church impact its members and its community?
It is not about increasing the numbers; it is about increasing the impact. That is such an important distinction for small churches to understand. History has shown that most small churches will not grow large but history has also shown that a small church can have an impact way out of proportion to its size. As a church looks to its future, the question of numerical growth should not even enter into the discussion of future plans. The question that needs to be asked is “how does a church increase its impact?”
How does a small church play a role in the national-church mosaic in Canada?
It is easy for the small church to get lost in the larger-church picture. Why would anyone get excited about this small group of people in small-town Canada when the huge church in the nearby city is attracting thousands every Sunday and is offering programs to meet every need. Let me give you just a few reasons why the small church matters in the larger picture.
- more than half a million people depend on small churches for their spiritual care
- many of the leaders of tomorrow will get their spiritual foundation in a small church
- Jesus died for the people attending that small church
- God must love small churches because he made a lot of them in every corner of our planet
The small church must have a voice in the future of the church in Canada. The church will be poorer if that voice is not heard. How do we make sure that that we are hearing what the small church is saying?
You can play a part
In the months ahead I want to talk with as many people as I can about these four issues. If you have read this blog and are a leader in the church, I would love to talk to you. If you look at these four issues and think that I have missed something, I would love to hear from you. If you have done something in your church that has provided even a partial answer to one of these issues, I would love to hear your story. If you just have a burden for small churches, I would love to talk to you.
You can respond to this blog in the space below or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will set up a time to connect.