In the church today, there is a great amount of conversation about
what is considered “effective ministry.” The debate looms between loud and
quiet, contemporary and traditional, and rural and urban. Of all the areas for
tension one that seems to come out often is the debate between large and small.
This debate is kind of funny when you think about it, and involves more
insecurity, jealousy, and pride than rigorous theological reflection.
I live in a connection where I know far more small church pastors
than I know large church pastors. As such, it is not uncommon to hear about how
small churches are legitimate means for accomplishing our mission of making
disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In fact, pastors
and parishioners serving small churches are often passionate about small church
(For the record, I know “small” and “large” are generic terms. My
non-scientific definition for small church is under 100, and large would be
over 500. Anything in between would be mid-sized… but once again, I’m not an
expert on church size).
Let me just pause and say that I am a fan of small churches.
Personally, I do not think the church is at it’s best when it’s too large. But
I do not think small churches should be off the hook just because they are small. Let me be clear: I think
every church should be growing by reaching new people. If they don’t want to
grow and become bigger, they should be investing in new church starts.
I recently read a statistic from “When Moses Meets Aaron” where
Susan Beaumont says that “of the estimated 350,000 congregations in the United
States today a full 50 percent of them currently provide ministry to only 11
percent of the people who are involved with congregations.”
When I first read this statistic, it took a little bit to wrap my
mind around it. I had to think about it like this. Consider there are 100
apples, and dozen baskets to put them in. Some baskets are large and some are
small. Based on these numbers, the 6 smaller baskets (I assume), hold only 11
apples total. Which means the other 6 baskets, much larger, are holding the
other 89 apples. Half the baskets are only holding 11 perfect of the
apples! And this says nothing of the appels that are still hanging on the tree.
Small churches might be effective for those who are there, but in
the large scope of ministry in the US, they are ineffective in helping with the
harvest. Sadly, small churches are not
pulling their weight when it comes to discipling people. If small churches are
going to be effective ways to make disciples, we will need quite a few more of
them. For every megachurch of 2000 people, we would need 100+ small
churches to disciple the same amount of people.
Next time I hear someone talk about the effectiveness of small
churches, I think I will follow the conversation up with a simple question:
“Great! Glad you’re seeing God work in the lives of people. What’s your
strategy for starting new small churches that are reaching new people for Christ?”
I can only imagine what would happen to the culture of a small church if they caught a vision for how God could use them to launch new churches that are reaching new people!
I’m passionate about church planting. I need to say that so you know
without apology my bias. I know that church planting doesn’t seem like
something small churches can pull off. I think this is the case for a number of
reasons: 1. Maybe they aren’t as healthy as they’ve let on. 2. Even if they are
healthy and vibrant, they lack the resources (people, money, support) to launch
a church plant by themselves. If the first one is true, I’m not sure what
I can do help. But if the second happens to be the case, I’d like to offer a
1. Support another church plant. Join up with an existing church
plant. As a church planter, I promise you that if a small church came to me and
said, “we want to support with our prayers, finances, and energy around what
you’re doing,” I’d be overwhelmingly excited.
2. Form a partnership with other churches. Who says you need to
plant a church by yourself? Find other churches that have a similar vision and
team up to tackle the difficulties of a new church start.
3. Send people to a church start. Release your people to go to a new
4. Offer your space to a new church start. If you want to stay
small, but you’re located in a booming area, why not offer a prime worship time
to a new church start?
5. Raise money for new church starts. You can join the West Ohio
Conference in raising funds for new church starts. Read more here: http://www.westohioumc.org/ac/2016/blog/2016-annual-conference-offering
Whatever you do, I think one thing needs to be true: we need to
reach new people with the Gospel. That means we either need to grow larger, or
we need to be planting (or partnering with) new churches.