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What Is Normal?

I have spent the past ten days doing what I love to do: holding conversations with pastors and other church leaders on the subject of the small church.

I have been to Winnipeg in Manitoba and to Churchbridge, Saskatoon, Milestone and Caronport in Saskatchewan. At the moment I am sitting in the library at Briercrest College and Seminary waiting for an appointment with the president and one of the faculty members.

We too will be talking about small church with the aim of discovering what Briercrest is doing to train small-church leaders. One of my goals is to be a spokesperson for the small churches in Canada in these kinds of conversations.

For too long small churches have questioned their value because they have listened to the concept that in order to really count they have to be growing numerically so that eventually they will become a church that “really counts”.

Karl Vaters addresses this in his latest blog.

“Too many good pastors of good churches have been living in unnecessary guilt, frustration and self-condemnation because their church isn’t getting bigger. We’ve been told that if our church isn’t getting bigger it must not be healthy. And we’ve believed it.” 

The problem is Karl’s last sentence. Too many of us have believed it. We’ve bought into that statement and it simply is not true.

Doing the “right things” will not always result in numerical growth. There are lots of small churches that are doing exactly what they have been called to do but they are still small churches.

On the other hand there are lots of numerically large churches that are not particularly healthy because they are doing what needs to be done to attract people and not necessarily doing what needs to be done to grow disciples.


What is the norm?

I had breakfast this week with a prof from the Lutheran Seminary in Saskatoon. He has given leadership to small rural churches so it was great to talk with someone who shares my passion for the small church.

He referred to small churches as the “right-sized” church. Right-sized for what you might ask and I think that he would respond by saying that they are the right size for many things but particularly the right size for doing church as the New Testament says we should do it.

In the log entry mentioned above Karl Vaters suggests that small healthy churches are normal churches. I would agree with him in that they have been the norm for two thousand years.

I would suggest that small churches are part of the church that Jesus loves. In Ephesians 5 we read that Jesus loved the church and gave himself for it. There is a sense in which he loved the church universal but there is also a sense in which he loved the local church that you attend and lead.

Whether you think of the small church as the right-sized church or the normal church or the church that Jesus loves, don’t ever think of it as a failure just because it is small.

There are many small healthy churches that are impacting people’s lives and making a difference for the Kingdom of God in this world. Those churches do not have to grow before they become valuable in the sight of God.


The value of a single church

I spent a night this week with a young couple, Jason and Amy Wagmore, in the small town of Milestone in Southern Saskatchewan. Jason is the pastor of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in that town. I enjoyed their hospitality very much.

We got to talk about two things that I love – sports and small churches. They are Blue Jay fans and I could talk Blue Jays all day.

They are also small church leaders and that is a topic that I enjoy even more than the Blue Jays.

Milestone Alliance Church is the only evangelical church in Milestone and for a wide area around. If they weren’t there, there would be a large section of Saskatchewan without an evangelical voice.

I am not putting down whatever mainline churches might be in the area but I believe that it is important to have the balancing voice of an evangelical church as well.

They ran a very successful DVBS this past summer with more than forty children taking part. That is forty children that would not have had any place to go if Milestone Alliance Church wasn’t there.

They are envisioning other ways to impact the community for Jesus Christ. Every area needs someone with that kind of vision.

They will probably never lead a large church in Milestone. The demographics of the area make that almost impossible.

They are, however, touching lives and that is what it is really all about.

It isn’t about filling seats.

It is about impacting lives.

I have great respect for people like Jason and Amy who have accepted God’s call to serve a small church and rather than seeing it as a stepping stone to a larger church, see it as their place of service until God calls them some place else.


When someone suggests that big is better, remember:

I run into it all the time.

I meet with people who tell me that big is better.

I read books that suggest that big is better.

I look at blogs that emphasize that big is better.

It has been a crucial part of much of what has been taught over the past fifty years and sadly many people believe it.

When you are tempted to start believing it, remember the following facts.

1. Small has been the norm for the past two thousand years.

If your church is small, you are part of the majority. Most churches throughout history and around the world today are small.

2. Millions of lives have been impacted by small churches.

Churches don’t have to be large to make a difference for God. Many people have found Christ and then grown in their faith in the context of a small church.

3. Small churches produce a disproportionate number of leaders.

Many of the leaders in the church world in Canada today grew up in small churches. It is in the context of those churches that they first began to serve and is so doing had the ground work laid for future leadership.

4. Small churches are loved by Jesus Christ.

Jesus not only loves you as an individual. He also loves your church. People might fail to see the value of your church but Jesus doesn’t.


A Final Word of Encouragement

In August I spent several weeks in the Maritimes meeting with key church leaders. I was told that the vast majority of churches in the Atlantic region are small.

This month I was in Manitoba and Saskatchewan meeting with leaders there. Again I was told that most of the churches in those provinces are small.

I live in Ontario and from personal experience I know that most of the churches in my own province are small.

If your church is small, it is the norm for churches all across Canada.

The large churches that measure their membership in the thousands are in the minority. They are the exceptions that don’t fit the norm.

So, lead your small church with pride knowing that you are not alone. There are thousands of other small-church leaders just like you.

May God bless you in your service to be an important part of his church!

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