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Two Reasons Why You Should Think Like A Small Church

I love it when people send me links to something that they think might interest me as a small-church consultant. Usually the blog entry or podcast or article is well worth the investment of my time.

A good friend sent me a link to a podcast put out by Corey Neuwhof, pastor of Connexus Church based out of three locations in the Barrie area. The podcast of an interview with Karl Vaters from New Small Church If you do not know who Carl is, you need to connect with his website.

During the interview, Karl shared what was a transforming moment for him and his church. It was the moment in which he realized that he and the rest of the leadership team needed to stop thinking like a big church.

In his book The Grasshopper Myth he states that “that was the day my perspective on church and ministry changed for good, the day I discovered that I am a Small Church Pastor, and the moment this book and the ministry of New Small Church was born” (25, 26).

That is a profound truth. Small churches need to stop thinking like big churches. That is contrary to much of what we have been told over the past fifty years. The church growth movement stressed that if you were going to grow, you needed to think like a large church while you were still small. There are many reasons why thinking big is not a good idea. In this blog entry I am going to share two of those reasons.


Relationships are everything

I first encountered the idea that pastors in small churches need to think like big church leaders in a book by C. Peter Wagner entitled Leading Your Church To Growth. In that book Wagner distinguishes between pastors who are shepherds and those who are ranchers. The shepherd acts as a pastor who cares for each individual member whereas the rancher acts as a CEO who sets direction for the church as a whole and trains people to do the other work. If the church is going to grow numerically, as Wagner believes God wants it to, the pastor needs to operate like a rancher even while the church is small.

The problem with this is that at the heart of a small church are relationships. The rancher doesn’t visit individuals. He doesn’t do hospital visits. He doesn’t spend time counseling people. Those things can be assigned to someone else in a large church but in a small church, in which relationships are essential, the pastor can’t give those tasks to others and expect that he will have the trust and love of the people whom he is serving.

Small churches are radically different from large churches and they need different types of leaders to lead them. In looking for a pastor, small churches need to decide whether they want a shepherd who will pastor individuals or a rancher who will focus on the big picture. Small churches, in which relationships define the church, need a pastor.


Reality is always your friend and reality is that you are small

When I was in high school, I loved sports. During the winter months I played basketball whenever I could. I didn’t have an ounce of athletic ability. I only weighed 135 pounds. I wasn’t very fast. So, I was a non-athletic, small, slow person who loved to play sports. That was reality and nothing that I could do was going to change it.

I was never a good player but I practiced shooting foul shots. I became quite proficient at it. I once made 36 shots in a row and could regularly shoot ten or twelve without missing. I wasn’t good enough to make the basketball team but I had a lot of fun playing 21 with my friends. Before I was willing to work on just one aspect of my game, I had to accept the fact that I was not athletic. I was small and slow and that’s a bad combination in any sport!

Small churches need to take a firm hold on reality. They need to acknowledge the fact that they are small and quite possibly they are going to remain small. They need to stop thinking like a big church and become the best small church that they can be.

Trying to think like a big church will result in frustration and failure. Thinking like a small church, that is committed to being the best they can be, will result in becoming excellent in what they are – a small church.


Small is not the same as failure

Small churches need a new measuring stick. Numerical growth is not the only sign of church impact. When a church has only one means of measuring its success, a lot of good things get missed. Small churches need to think like a small church and rejoice in the success indicators that are unique to small churches.

I recently spoke with a church leader whose son is serving as an associate pastor. He graduated from Bible College and now is receiving a hands on education in a church that cares for him. At some point in the future this young man and his wife are going to be providing leadership for the church in Canada in a significant way. The small church, from which that young man came, needs to rejoice that they were part of his development.

I spoke recently with a pastor of a small church who was sharing that he had had a number of burned out people come to his church to be restored. He was committed to allowing them time to heal and re-energize for future ministry.

I recently visited a church in which much of the worship leadership was being provided by people who had grown up in that small church. They were doing a wonderful job because they were allowed to be part of the worship teams when they were teenagers. Those opportunities for service, when they were young, gave them the foundation upon which to grow into who they are today.

Take time to discover your points of impact. They are there. You just need to discover them. When you search, though, get creative. Use a small-church measuring stick instead of buying into the idea that numerical growth is the only measuring stick that counts.

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