There are so many types of Small Churches in the world! The variety is staggering.
Correspondingly, there are a great variety of Small Church pastors, too. But as I talk with more of them (us), I’ve found that there are some patterns that keep repeating themselves.
Specifically, I’ve discovered that Small Church pastors tend to fall into one of six categories. Or some hybrid of two or more.
If you’re a Small Church pastor who doesn’t fit into any of these categories, that’s fine. Maybe there’s a seventh or eighth one I haven’t run across yet.
But I offer these six to you for three reasons:
First, to let you know you’re not alone. There are others who feel what you feel and know the challenges you struggle with.
Second, as a way of supporting each other. Once we know there are others like us, we can reach out and help each other.
Third, each type comes with areas of caution to be aware of. I offer those cautions today as well.
So here they are. You might be a Small Church pastor…
1. By Calling
It’s a part of your strategy. You want to participate in the growth of the kingdom of God by investing in the multiplication of smaller churches or house churches, not by building larger churches.
I am convinced that church growth by the intentional multiplication of smaller congregations will become much more common in the near future – at least I hope so. No, not as “the next new way to do church”, but as one more valid tool in our church growth toolkit.
Rabbits multiply faster than elephants. Starbucks stores multiply faster than IKEA stores. And Small Churches multiply faster than big churches. Some folks know this and are taking advantage of it.
Caution: Make sure you’re choosing Small Church ministry because you truly believe it’s the way God has called you to minister.
Be strategic. Be bold. Be quirky. Be innovative. But don’t do it because you’re settling for less.
2. By Temperament
You prefer quiet contemplation to rowdy celebration. Small groups to big crowds. A slower pace to a busy schedule. It’s what feeds your soul and it’s how you feed others.
(UPDATE: One of my readers pointed out in the comment section that “I have always thrived in a context in which I can know everybody’s name on Sunday.” That kind of shepherding instinct is central to a lot of Small Church pastors’ temperaments and is worth mentioning here. Thanks to Matthew Voyer for bringing that up. You can click here to read his comment. I love it when a reader makes my post better!)
If this is what draws your heart, do it with all your heart.
Caution: Find a place of ministry that suits a slower, more quiet pace. Move to a small town or rural setting. Minister in a senior adult community. If slow and steady is the way you minister, find a place where people need that kind of ministry. Maybe even in a big city among people who are seeking a way to slow down.
Be sure you’re not choosing Small Church ministry because it’s easier. It isn’t. Even when the pace is slow, the challenges are huge.
3. From Resistance, to Obedience
These are Small Church pastors who like big churches. Maybe you’ve been on a big church staff. Maybe you tried to grow your church into the next big thing, but it didn’t work out the way you expected. Maybe, because of that, you feel like a failure.
You’re not a failure. You’ve just been trying to do things you’re not called to do.
That’s my story – as told in The Grasshopper Myth. I didn’t set out to be a Small Church pastor. In fact, I resisted it for decades. But as it turns out, that’s what I do best. I didn’t choose it. It chose me.
Unlike the Small Church pastor by temperament, I don’t need (or even like) quiet, soothing worship experiences. I want activity, energy and buzz.
We need a lot more Small Churches that are led by pastors who are just as energetic, driven and innovative as their big church counterparts, but who are called to use that passion, innovation and energy in a Small Church setting.
Caution: Be sure it’s really what God is calling you to. Don’t use this as an excuse not to fix real problems (see #4). You might want to seek out a mature pastoral mentor who can help you sort this out.
I was a Small Church pastor for over two decades before I realized that’s who I was and how I minister best. The biggest challenge for us is coming to the realization that a Small Church is not a lesser calling. And that we can do Small Church really well without settling for less.
4. By Mistake
This is what many (most?) church growth advocates seem to assume about Small Church pastors. That we couldn’t cut it in big church world. That we’ve made some bad leadership mistakes that have kept us and our church stuck. This is where all those “10 Mistakes You Must Be Making If Your Church Isn’t Growing” lists come from.
While that’s not the majority of Small Churches, we’d be fooling ourselves if we refused to acknowledge that those churches and pastors do exist. In fact, there are probably far more of them than we’d like to admit.
Caution: If you’re in categories 1-3, don’t let anyone tell you you’re in category 4. If you’re in category 4, you need to fix the problems.
5. As a Stepping-Stone
This is the pastor who is using the Small Church as a stepping-stone to something bigger. They’re always looking over their shoulder for something better to come along.
Caution: Of all the lists I’ve seen about why some churches don’t grow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this reason on the list. But it may be one of the leading causes of unhealthy churches – pastors who aren’t fully committed because they’re looking for something bigger.
Whatever church you’re in, it deserves no less than your full commitment. Stop looking for the next great thing and maybe where you are will become the next great thing.
6. For Now
This is the pastor of the church that is growing and will become big. It’s the pastor I thought I was (see above) and it’s what a whole lot of us think we are.
If that’s who you are and what God has called you to, that’s great!
Caution: Be careful about thinking your church will become the biggest thing in town. Church growth (as in, individual churches getting bigger) is not as automatic as many have promised. There have probably been more pastors burn out and leave the ministry because the promises of growth didn’t materialize than any other factor.
Do It On Purpose
Whatever type of pastor you are, do it well. Churches need pastors who are ministering with their entire heart and soul. Not settling for less. Not frustrated that it’s not getting bigger. Not refusing to correct mistakes. And not as a step on their way to something bigger and (supposedly) better.
We tell our congregations that everyone matters. That each person has a gift to add to the body. That every gift, no matter how small it may seem to them, has value. That we should do it with all our heart, soul and passion.
Let’s practice what we preach.
So what do you think? What type of Small Church pastor are you?
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