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When We Treat Small Churches Like a Problem, We Get More Problem Churches

Church leaders are always wringing their hands about the problem of Small Churches.

I heard it again recently. A church leader complained that 90 percent of the churches in their group had less than 200 in attendance, then introduced a plan for getting those numbers up.

(Never mind that the “90 percent under 200? figure is shockingly consistent across all church groups—which should make us wonder if God is up to something with that.)

I watched as many of the pastors in the room tried to hide their “here we go again” faces. Unsuccessfully. Then I left the room wondering about what happens when we do that to Small Church pastors.

As I was pondering the implications, this question hit me over the head like a hammer.

If Small Churches weren’t seen as a problem, would they stop being a problem?

Think about it. When we treat people like they’re problems, they become problems. When we treat them like they’re a blessing, they often become the blessing we see.

Churches are the same.

Most of us know this instinctively about our children, our church members and our friends. But we often forget this about our churches and our ministry in them.

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Small Churches have been treated like a problem for at least the last 40 years. It’s assumed that if we’re small, there’s something wrong with us. Books and blogs are dedicated to fixing us. And the solution to fixing us is always the same—get those numbers up!

What if we changed that strategy? What if, instead of treating every Small Church like they’re a problem that needs to be fixed, we started treating churches the way most of us have learned to treat people?

What if we discovered and nurtured what’s great about Small Churches instead of pointing out what’s wrong with them?

Telling Small Churches they’re a problem has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, there are a lot of unhealthy Small Churches in the world (unhealthy big ones, too), but I don’t think they get better when we act like we’re embarrassed by them. They get worse. Here’s how.

When Small Churches Are Told They’re a Problem …

Being constantly told that your church isn’t measuring up leads to a downward spiral. I’ve seen it too many times to count.

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Karl is the author of four books and has been in pastoral ministry for almost 40 years. He is the teaching pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, a healthy small church in Orange County, California, where he has ministered for over 27 years with his wife, Shelley. Karl’s heart is to help pastors of small churches find the resources to lead well and to capitalize on the unique advantages that come with pastoring a small church. Karl produces resources for Helping Small Churches Thrive at KarlVaters.com, and has created S.P.A.R.K. Online (Small-Church Pastors Adapt & Recover Kit), which is updated regularly with new resources to help small churches deal with issues related to the COVID-19 crisis and aftermath.