Every once in a while something jumps off the screen when I am reading someone else’s blog and the following quote did exactly that for me this week. While I am just quoting one small section, the entire blog written by Karl Vaters is worth reading. Here is the quote:
“My church isn’t small because I make small church choices. I make small church choices because my church is small.
“I don’t make big church choices because big church choices don’t fit in a small church context.”
If you are part of a leadership team in a small church there may be nothing that you will read this year that will contain more wisdom than the above quote.
The accepted thinking
For a long time church growth leaders have taught that if churches want to grow they need to think like large-church leaders. They need to make the kind of decisions that large-church leaders would make. They need to start thinking “big” or they will forever remain small.
That is simply not true. For every instance in which small-church leaders began to think like large-church leaders and as a result they experienced the kind of growth that turned them into large churches, there are scores of examples in which small-church leaders tried to think like large-church leaders and it all blew up in their faces.
There is one good reason why leaders in small churches need to make small-church decisions.
It is the fact that church growth consultants too often ignore and do so to the detriment of the churches they are advising.
Here it is.
Small churches need to make small church decisions because they are small!
Anything else is a denial of reality and to deny reality is to live in a world of fantasy and good decisions never come out of a fantasy world.
Fantasy or Reality
Much of the teaching on church growth over the past fifty years has come out of a fantasy world. Here are a few of the myths that have been created and that have contributed to church leaders ignoring reality and living in a church growth fantasy world.
- If we just act like a large church we will become a large church.
- God’s plan for every church is numerical growth. If a church isn’t growing numerically, there is something wrong.
- The role of a good pastor is to be the CEO of the church and therefore she needs to learn to apply business principles to church life.
- Size is a sign of God’s blessing on the church. Therefore, the small church is settling for God’s second best.
- God’s best for every pastor is to lead a large, growing church. Pastors of small churches are settling for second best.
These and many other myths that come out of that church growth fantasy world contribute to small churches trying to make moves that they believe will produce numerical growth but that do not take into consideration the reality that the churches making those decisions are small and may remain small for a long time.
Good small church decisions contribute towards the development of healthy small churches because they take reality into consideration when they are making their decisions.
Large church decisions contribute towards the development of small churches with problems because they are made in a fantasy world that doesn’t fit with reality and in most cases don’t work.
What do small-church decisions look like?
Karl Vaters gives examples of seven healthy small-church decisions in his latest blog and I would encourage you to have a look at his suggestions for practical specifics. I want to try answering the question at the non-specific level.
Over the past few years I have asked hundreds of people to name the greatest strength of their small church. Without exception the answer has always been relationships. The reason that most people attend a small church is because they want to be in an environment that fosters relationships.
In the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20, Jesus makes it very clear that the task that he gave to the church is to make disciples. This is much more than simply a call to evangelism. It is a call to bring people from that first interest in the gospel to the point at which they are fully committed, fully functioning followers of Jesus Christ. Church growth is not about filling seats on a Sunday morning. It is about making disciples who in turn will make more disciples.
If a church is not making disciples then whatever its size it is not living up to the commission that Jesus has given it.
The strength of a small church should be relationships.
The commission given to the church by Jesus is to make disciples.
Therefore a good small-church decision that results in a healthy small church is one that contributes to the people already attending the church growing into solid disciples who are in turn reaching out to people in their community and helping them become disciples.
This all needs to be done in the context of relationships.
A good small-church decision isn’t about how a small church can become a large church.
A good small-church decision is all about how the people in a small church can grow into solid disciples of Jesus.
Small churches that make those kind of small-church decisions might not become large but they will become healthy and that is what it is ultimately all about.