Church leaders are always wringing their hands about the problem of Small Churches.
I heard it again recently. A church leader complained that 90% 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% 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.
When a Small Church see itself as a problem to be fixed…
- They put more time, money and energy into growth than health
- Good pastors get discouraged when they can’t get the numbers up
- Discouraged pastors don’t pastor well
- Discouraged pastors leave the ministry faster and/or get replaced too quickly, creating a spiral of less health and growth
So what’s the alternative? How about taking a lesson from the Apostle Paul’s body analogy in 1 Corinthians 12. Let’s stop acting like the hand that tells the foot “I don’t need you.” No, that’s not what we intend when we prescribe fixes for otherwise healthy Small Churches, but that is how it comes across.
The result of that approach is that Small Churches start thinking that way about themselves, too. Soon, the foot starts saying “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body.”
Let’s stop treating Small Churches like a problem to be fixed and start treating them like the valuable members of the body that they are.
Feet don’t need to become hands, and ears don’t need to become eyes in order to make a valuable contribution to the body. In the same way, Small Churches don’t need to become big churches. They just need to be healthy members of a healthy body.
When that happens, a lot of good things can follow. Here are just a few.
When Small Churches are Told They’re a Blessing…
- They start looking for ways to become better Small Churches
- We start creating better resources for Small Churches
- Small Churches can commit their limited time, money and energy more wisely
- They get healthier
- Small Church pastors feel encouraged and become better, healthier pastors
- There will be more healthy Small Churches for people who worship and do ministry best in a small context
- The growth that does happen will be more organic and less forced
- Churches that don’t grow numerically will still contribute to the growth of God’s kingdom
So what do you think? What other benefits are there from treating Small Churches as valued members of the body instead of a problem to be fixed?
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