The Unique Impact of Smaller Churches

In a previous post, I wrote about the migration of people from smaller churches to larger churches. I noted several reasons for this trend, not the least of which was the growing urban and suburban population base in our nation. And that growth has come at the expense of the rural population. Today, only 16 percent of our population lives in rural areas. Just a century ago, 60 percent of the U.S. residents lived in rural areas.

Such trends are real. The data cannot be refuted. But the reality of the trends does not diminish the value of smaller churches.

Understanding the Smaller Church

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Definitions of the smaller church are elusive. The smallness of a church is a relative matter. For example, I was recently in an association of 40 or so churches where the largest church had a worship attendance of 450, but 30 of the churches had an attendance under 100. In that case, a church of 450 was very large, and a church of 100 was one of the top ten largest churches. Is a church of 100 in worship attendance then large or small?

For simplicity, I define a small church as one with a worship attendance less than 200. There are certain group and sociological dynamics that take place when a church breaks the 200-attendance mark. In my denomination, the majority of churches have an attendance below 200. But the majority of members are in larger churches.

Serving the Community Well

Many of the smaller churches are in areas with a small population base. Rural America continues to become more rural and less populated. But those communities still need churches, and many faithful leaders and members are serving those communities well. Bivocational pastors lead many of these churches. Though we don’t have precise numbers, we believe that as many as six out of ten churches have bivocational pastors. These pastors are faithful leaders who sacrifice much for the churches and communities they serve.

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Thom Rainer
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches.