Small Church myths have become so commonplace that most church leaders believe them, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I know, because I believed them for years, too.
But 90% of churches are under 200 people.
Ponder the implications of that. If any other organization or business was misunderstanding and under-utilizing the nature, value and structure of 9 out of 10 of their outlets, it would be considered a massive emergency.
But much of the church barely notices. And many who notice it, don’t seem to be bothered by it.
Well, I’m bothered by it. And if the comments I’m receiving on this blog and in private conversations are any indication, there’s a growing number of ministers who are becoming bothered by it as well.
The Myths We Believe
So what exactly have we gotten wrong about Small Churches?
For today’s post, I’ve tried to narrow these myths down to a handful of biggies.
I’ve written about all of them in The Grasshopper Myth and in various blog posts, but I’ve never put them together in one place until now.
So consider these myths an introduction to each issue. I’ve made some short comments, then added links to my previous writings on each subject. These links outline the issue in more detail. Most of them offer some starter solutions too.
This is not a definitive list. If you have any to add, please drop me a line in the comment section.
Myth #1: If a church is healthy, it will grow
Which means, if it’s not growing… you can fill in the rest.
This is unquestionably the most commonly repeated and widely believed myth about Small Churches.
I get it. All healthy things should grow, right?
Yes, they should. But, as I wrote in what may be my most-quoted passage from The Grasshopper Myth,
Yes, all healthy things grow. But growth is never as simple as older equals taller or healthy equals bigger. A pea will never be the size of a pumpkin and a rose won’t ever reach the height of a redwood no matter how much you water them, fertilize them or teach them redwood growth principles. It’s just not in their nature. All healthy, living things reach their optimal size at maturity, then they grow in different ways from that point on.
What if that principle applied to churches? I have come to believe it does. If the church is one body with many parts, isn’t it possible, even likely, that the body of Christ needs churches of all sizes?
I am not a failure if my church reaches its optimal stage of maturity, then starts growing in ways other than butts in seats for weekend services.
Plus, the evidence refuses to back it up. There are millions (literally millions!) of healthy Small Churches all over the world whose numbers don’t increase from year to year.
- The Myth of Inevitable Church Growth
- When Church Growth Perceptions Don’t Match Small Church Reality (Infographic)
Myth #2: If a church isn’t growing, the leadership must be doing something wrong
If myth #1 is the most repeated misunderstanding about Small Churches, this myth causes the most damage to hard-working, Godly, faithful leaders.
Small Church pastors have heard what’s wrong with us from conferences, books and blogs. We want to make our churches better, so we go home and try to fix what we’ve been told is wrong, only to find that most of it doesn’t work for us.
This makes us feel like even bigger failures. It’s a never-ending cycle of failure and shame.
But there are a lot of reasons churches don’t grow numerically that have nothing to do with bad leadership.
- Small Churches Are Not a Problem, a Virtue or an Excuse
- 9 No-Fault, No-Excuse Reasons Many Healthy Churches Stay Small
Myth #3: Church growth will happen if we follow the right steps
Yes, we should always be striving to do church better. That’s a primary principle of this website.
But there are no church growth guarantees. What worked for one church won’t work the same for yours. God doesn’t sell franchises.
- We Followed the Steps – Where’s the Church Growth?
- Growing a Bigger Congregation Is Hard, Rare and [Gasp!] NOT a Biblical Mandate
- Is Your Church Stuck, Or Just Small?
Myth #4: Churches will get better if we teach them how to grow
No, no, a thousand times NO!
Churches don’t get better by teaching them how to grow. Churches get better by teaching them how to become healthy. Sometimes that health will result in numerical growth. Sometimes it will not.
Teaching a small, unhealthy church how to grow will only result in a big unhealthy church. Churches need to be taught how to get healthy before we’re taught how to get big.
A world filled with healthy Small Churches is better than a world filled with unhealthy big ones.
- Forget the 200 Barrier – Small Churches Need to Break Through the Grasshopper Barrier
- Bigger Fixes Nothing: 7 Great Ideas for Small Churches from Robert Irvine & Gordon Ramsay
- Bigger Is Not a Plan, a Goal Or a Solution for Your Church’s Struggles
Myth #5: Small Churches need to think like big churches
This is the myth that nearly killed me and my church. As I outline in The Grasshopper Myth, trying to think and act like a big church distanced me from my congregation and from my own gifting. I almost lost my church and my entire ministry because of it.
Small Churches need to act like healthy Small Churches. And unhealthy churches – of any size – need to work on health before working on growth.
- Unhealthy Churches Should Not Act Like Healthy Churches – Until They Are
- Stop Thinking Like a Big Church
Myth #6: Small Churches learn best from bigger churches
Sure, there are valuable lessons small churches can learn from big churches. But there many aspects of Small Church ministry that are unique to Small Churches.
Healthy Small Churches have as much to teach each other as the big guys have to teach us – probably more.
Sometimes, the best place for a Small Church pastor to learn what they need is from another Small Church pastor.
- They Just Don’t Get It: When Big Church Solutions Meet Small Church Realities
- Ministry Reality Check: We’re All Gonna Pastor a Small Church
Myth #7: Small Churches stay small because they are stubborn and faithless
This is one of those “now you’re making me mad!” myths.
Are there stubborn and faithless Small Churches? Sure. But there are stubborn and faithless big ones, too. Size has nothing to do with it.
I’ve sat with so many faithful, hardworking Small Church pastors, both in America and in other countries. Many feel beaten down by pastors who have told them “you’d be bigger if you had more faith.”
I’ve seen their passion, their tears and their hard work on rocky soil. They don’t need our criticism. They need our support, our prayers and our thanks.
- The 11th Reason Pastors Quit Too Soon
- I Don’t Like the Same Small Churches You Don’t Like
- Why Are There So Many Unhealthy Small Churches? (Don’t Worry, It’s Good News)
Myth #8: Small Churches are a problem to be fixed
What if Jesus doesn’t see Small Churches as part of the problem, but part of his plan? What if it’s been his idea all along to populate every corner of the globe with pockets of his followers – some large, most small – so that everywhere you go you find his people?
And what would happen if we realized this truth and got to work with Jesus on planting, supporting and multiplying healthy Small Churches, alongside our healthy big siblings?
- The Astonishing Power of Small Churches: Over One Billion Served
- Why Successful Churches Aren’t Turning the World Upside-Down – But the Outcasts Might
So what do you think? Are there other myths we’ve believed abut Small Churches?
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