First, an explanation or two, then a definition. And finally 10 reasons small churches stay small.
I know more about getting small churches to grow than larger ones. I pastored three of them, and only the first of the three did not grow. I was fresh out of college, untrained, inexperienced, and clueless about what I was doing. The next two grew well, and even though I remained at each only some three years, one almost doubled, and the other nearly tripled in attendance and ministries.
By using the word “grow,” I do not mean numbers for numbers’ sake. I do not subscribe to the fallacy that bigness is good, and small churches are failures. What I mean by “grow” is reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you reach them and start new churches, your local church may not expand numerically, but it is most definitely “growing.” If you are located in a town that is losing population and your church manages to stay the same size, you’re probably “growing” (i.e., reaching new people for the Lord).
These are simply my observations as to why stagnant, ungrowing churches tend to stay that way. I send it forth hoping to plant some seed in the imagination of a pastor or other leader who will be used of the Lord to do great things in a small church.
I have frequently quoted Francis Schaeffer who said, “There are no small churches and no big preachers.” I like that. But it’s not entirely true. We’ve seen churches made up of just a few people and stymied by lack of vision and a devotion to the status quo. And here and there, we may encounter a preacher with the world on his heart and the wisdom of the ages on his lips; that, for my money, is a “big preacher.”
But this is not about being such a preacher. We’re concerned with not being one of those churches.
The “ten reasons” that follow are not necessarily in the order of importance or prevalence. This is the way they occurred to me, and the order seems right.
1. Wanting to stay small.
“We like our church just the way it is now.” While that attitude usually goes unspoken–it might not even be recognized by its carriers–it’s widespread in many churches. The proof of it is seen in how the leaders and congregation reject new ideas and freeze out new people.
The process of rejecting newcomers is a subtle one, never as overt as snubbing them. They will be greeted and chatted with and handed a printed bulletin. But they will be excluded as clearly as if they were–as I was once–the only man in a roomful of sorority women at a state university. (I was an invited guest, about to bring a message to them. They couldn’t have been nicer, but alas, they did not invite me to join!)
“Bob’s class is meeting this week over at Tom and Edna’s. Come and bring a covered dish.” “The youth will have a fellowship tonight at Eddie Joe’s. We’re serving pizza and you don’t want to miss it.”
Unless you know who Bob, Tom, Edna, and Eddie Joe are and where they live, you’re out of luck.
Pastors who want to include newcomers and first-timers in things should use full names from the pulpit. “I’ll ask Bob Evans to come to the pulpit and lead us in prayer.” This allows newcomers to learn who people are.
“For those who need directions to Eddie Joe Finham’s house for the youth fellowship, he’s the guy with the crew cut wearing the purple shirt. Raise your hand, Eddie Joe. He has printed directions to give you.”
No one can promise that if a church wants to grow it will. However, I can guarantee you that if it doesn’t, it won’t.