A few years ago I was in conversation with someone talking about a small church with which I was involved. We talked about a number of different aspects of church life in a church that small.
My sister-in-law was on the other side of the room. She and her husband attended a much smaller church with an average Sunday morning attendance in the teens or twenties. After listening to our conversation for a while, she asked what the attendance was in the church of which we were talking.
I told her that it was about seventy or eighty on Sunday morning. She looked at me and responded that that sounded pretty big to her.
It was a good reminder to me that even small churches come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. There is a significant difference between a church with twenty people and one with a hundred.
The question that I get asked more often than any other question is what do I consider a small church. I always reply that for the purposes of Small Church Connections, we arbitrarily chose the 150 mark as our cutoff point but the choice is arbitrary. There is no set number that marks the point at which a small church becomes a medium-sized church.
What I do know though is that whatever size your church is right now, it is the perfect size to accomplish the task that God has for your church to do.
It may be that in the future you will experience numerical growth and God will have a different task for you but the size that you are right now is the perfect size to accomplish what God has for you in 2015 in the geographical location in which you are located.
The perfect task for your church
How can I be so certain of what I just said?
It is because I know that God is not the type of God who gives impossible tasks to his people or to his church.
He has a job for your church to do that is designed perfectly for the size of church that you are.
I know that this is true because God wants your church to succeed in what you have been called to do.
God has placed you in your location so that you can be his hands and feet and eyes and ears in that location.
The challenge for you is to discover what his job description for you as a church is.
When you discover it, it will fit your church perfectly.
It will not be about what you can become. It will not be about setting a vision and goals for the future. It will not be about becoming something other than what you are.
It will be about what God wants you to do right now in your church just as you are.
I am not against setting future goals or having a vision for the future. There can be great value in doing so but there is also a danger. It is possible for a church to become so absorbed in the future that they lose sight of the present.
The importance of a reality check
In my book Reality Check for the Church, I have a section that talks about the importance for every church of facing up to reality.
Before you can determine God’s job for your church, you need to take a reality check. You need to build your vision around who you really are rather than who you would like to be.
Here are some reality checks that every small church must face.
- You are small and therefore your vision needs to fit who you are. Take a count of your Sunday morning attendance to determine exactly how many people are coming. Don’t estimate because most leaders will seriously overestimate numbers.
- You do not have the resources of a large church either in terms of finances, people or gifts. Therefore you can probably only do one or two things well.
- Your building has limitations. You may not have a large gym for your youth or a fully equipped Sunday school section. Therefore be creative in order to get the maximum benefit from what you do have.
- You don’t have the depth of leadership that a large church has. Therefore take steps to develop the leadership that you have.
- If you are small town or rural, you will lose your young people when they graduate from high school. Therefore invest heavily in them while you have them so that you send them out as future leaders in God’s Kingdom
- You are going to lose people to larger churches. Remember that they are part of the Kingdom as well and rejoice that you had those people for a period of time.
In a blog entry entitled Reality Is Always Our Friend, I stressed the fact that as difficult as reality can be to face, it is an important part of everything that we do in our churches.
Dreaming God’s dream
In my early years as a pastor I heard someone say that they wanted to have a vision for their church that was so big that only God could fulfill it.
I heard those words and whispered a huge amen under my breath. I mean who doesn’t want that.
Here was the pastor of a mega-church telling me that I could dream as big as I wished and God would fulfill my dream. The key was just to dream a big enough dream.
I developed a vision that was certainly bigger than anything that I had dreamed before. I got some other people excited about the vision and we set out to bring it to fulfillment.
The problem was that it never happened. We saw some good things take place but we never came close to fulfilling the dream.
I have since spoken with other pastors caught in the same trap.
I am still a dreamer but I no longer believe that our dreams need to exceed our limitations.
God has called a very few people to pastor large churches. He has equipped them to do so and we need to celebrate the fact that God has raised up these very gifted individuals.
Most of us aren’t called to a mega-church. In fact if more than seventy-five percent of all the churches in Canada and the United States are small, I have to think that God’s plan must be that most pastors will serve in small churches.
Maybe rather than all the pastors of small churches being seen as failures, we need to see all those small churches as part of God’s plan and equip most church leaders to serve in a small-church setting.
Maybe rather than being failures those pastors are right in the place to which God has called them.
Maybe what they need to do is not create dreams that can only happen through a miracle of God.
Maybe they need to dream dreams about how they can effectively serve in the small-church setting in which God has placed them
Maybe they need to dream small-church sized dreams so that they, along with their churches, can celebrate when God brings their dreams to reality.
After all, being where God has called you is much more important than being the pastor of a large church and maybe God has called you and equipped you for the place where you are right now.