When my daughter was in 6th grade she was given a book titled Do Hard Things. We both read through it together and talked about what it had to say. The basic premise is that too often young people don’t accomplish big things because they aren’t expected to. Teenagers are just assumed to be moody, selfish, and combative. They can’t really contribute much until they grow up. Maybe once they are out of college for a few years they can become productive members of society. The book strives to break this mentality.
Teenagers can do big, scary, challenging, great things. It’s OK if we expect more out of them. They have a lot to contribute to their school and their home and their church and their community. The problem isn’t intelligence or ability, but expectation. We might have lowered the bar a little too much. If you don’t believe me, just ask the 28 year-old who is playing video games on your couch right now.
The result of lowered expectations and a general lack of accountability is people who aren’t living up to their full potential. The same thing is true for the small church. We don’t expect too much from a little church because they aren’t full grown yet. Small churches can’t be expected to engage in the great commission, they are lucky to just be alive. The results of lowered expectations and a general lack of accountability are churches that aren’t living up to their full potential.
I’ve met too many small church pastors who seem to be content to settle for less than the best because no one has ever challenged them to do more. They use the size of their church as an excuse for mediocrity. Maybe they have bought into the false belief that the little church can’t do things as well as the bigger churches can. This way of thinking is total garbage!
Some think I’m a mean father for expecting my kids to do hard things, but I know that they are capable. I don’t think they have to wait until they are bigger to contribute to society. In the same way I might sound mean for encouraging small churches to do more, but I know that the small church is capable of doing exceedingly great things. You don’t have to wait until you get bigger.
Here’s a short list of some of the things that the small church can do well…
- Offer Great Preaching. Just because you’re at a small church doesn’t mean that the preaching shouldn’t be top notch. Preaching well doesn’t magically happen over time. Just like a bad golfer will stay a bad golfer forever until he takes a lesson or two, a bad preacher will stay a bad preacher until he takes a preaching lesson or two. Good preachers get that way by listening to other good preachers, by reading books about preaching, and by attending seminars on preaching. I know that taking the time to work on being a better preacher is harder for the small church pastor because you’re already busy cleaning the toilets and patching leaks in the roof and folding bulletins, but you’ve got to carve out a little time to focus on your preaching. Instead of going to that church growth conference that won’t work in your context anyway, find a preaching conference to attend. Your sermons should be well studied, prayed over, Spirit-filled, and passionately delivered. Those 40 people who show up on Sunday deserve it.
- Offer Solid Worship. I get the fact that you don’t have as many available musicians at your disposal as the bigger churches do, but that doesn’t mean the worship time has to be awkward. I’ve seen three common mistakes that small churches make with music. First, they try to imitate the hip worship band, but with 70 year old ladies. It’s embarrassing. It would be better to just let them sing the old hymns that they know and love. Second, sometimes the small church has way too many people involved. Anyone who wants to be on the team gets a spot. Maybe because there’s safety in numbers or maybe because there’s no one to tell them no. One mediocre musician is not ideal, but 7 mediocre musicians are brutal. It would be better to just have one dude with a guitar, even if he isn’t the best musician in the world. Less is more. Third, small churches fail to train people. The kid with the guitar might not be great right now, but if you can find ways to get him trained and stretched, in a few years he will be awesome! Pay for some lessons, send people to worship conferences, and provide opportunities for your musicians to grow. I think too many churches have distracting, confused, awkward times of worship simply because the pastor doesn’t want to take time to deal with it.
- Plant Churches. How big does a church need to be before it can realistically think about planting another church? Is it 5000? 1000? 500? 200? Maybe it isn’t the size of the church that matters most, but God’s will. I have seen small churches with a great facility use their building to develop multi-ethnic services. I’ve seen small churches with great leadership development send guys out to start new churches. My small church used the multi-site method to plant an even smaller church in a nearby farming community that needed a solid place of worship. In the past few decades there have been a ton of new and creative ways to expand the church. It’s not just a denominational or mega-church thing anymore.
- Train Leaders. Discipleship and leadership development are absolutely essential for small churches. There’s a good chance you won’t have the ability to hire pastoral staff who are already educated and trained. A lot of ministry at a small church is done through volunteers. But those volunteers can still be theologically astute and growing in their knowledge of the ministry. Access to high quality formal education via distance learning is easy to find. But even free and low-cost resources are easy to find. There’s a million great blogs that help sharpen ministry ability. Training is something that requires an intentional investment of time. That might be harder for you as a small church pastor, but it will be worth it.
- Reach the Community. I’m not talking about trying different church growth programs, I’m just talking about being salt and light in your community. Instead of doing things that you think will generate growth, just do things that will glorify Christ. Be present and available during community activities. Offer your facility for town functions. Train folks to serve as chaplains. Be willing to go outside of the church and find ways to welcome people into the church.
God has a great track record of using the smaller, weaker things of the world to accomplish His will. He gets more of the glory that way. The litmus test for how much a church can accomplish for God isn’t the size of the church, but the willingness to allow Him to work through them. God uses churches of all shapes and sizes. Stop thinking that your church has to “grow up” before it can be used by God. Instead, strive to be a healthy, vibrant, gospel-centered church and then watch as God does amazing things in your midst!
About Andy Flowers
Andy has served as the senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Woodland, California since 2007. He graduated from the Doctor of Ministry program at Western Seminary in 2016. Andy is the author of Leading Through Succession: Why Pastoral Leadership is the Key to a Healthy Transition.