A Case for the Small Church

One of my priorities for our Conference is for our pastors and leaders to attend a conference or seminar. I believe the time away is refreshing and needed, providing fresh input and encouragement. Momentum and energy are generated, there’s refreshment from gathering with like-minded Christ-followers beyond the challenge of new ideas. So during these past few days, I’ve been attending the “Big Little Church Conference” with four of our Conference pastors. I’ve been challenged to rethink the purpose and future of the small church.


The main presenter at the Conference is Karl Vater. He’s written a number of books, among them The Grasshopper Myth. He recently wrote a book called Small Church Essentials. I recommend it. He’s speaking from all of his books but primarily his most recent. Here are a few takeaways from our time at our Conference.

Small is not bad. Here’s what I believe: Small churches are good and God’s primary way to build his kingdom. The vast majority of churches are small. Worldwide, 90% of the churches are small. Small is not the problem. Someone pointed out that there’s not a single command in the New Testament that can’t be done by two or three people working together in Jesus’ name.

Bigger is not the solution. Effectiveness is! Vater puts it this way, “When healthy small churches grow, they become healthy big churches. When unhealthy small churches grow, they become unhealthy big churches. So instead of telling struggling churches to get bigger, let’s help them become healthy. If those churches grow as a result of their health, that’s great! If not? At least they’ll be healthy.”

Small is not dying. Many pastors hear the mantra, “Grow or die.” They think the small church is the end of the road (many are, literally, I mean).  However, we have made the mistake of associating numbers with success. The bottom line is that God wants every church to be effective and healthy. “If you constantly hear about the need to grow or die … you may not even think to ask about options other than growing” (Bo Burlingham, in Small Giants).

Too many churches have “IKEA envy” when really they should be more like Starbucks–more small locations instead of one giant warehouse. Ten churches of 100 people can be more effective than one church of 1,000. In a smaller church, people may find it easier to build relationships and be involved. That may be why so many people end up in a small church.

Pastor Steve Bergland said, “Pastoring a large church shouldn’t be of greatest importance with everything else being second or third or fourth. What is of importance is being used where God has placed us.”

Small is not an excuse. Being small is not an excuse to do church poorly. Vater observed, “People will come to small churches, but they won’t give up quality to do so.” Bigger is not better. Better is better, whether it is big or not. Smallness does not take us off the hook for being better! Prepare the best sermon you can. Make the needed changes. Be current and relevant to the community around you. Reach out to those far from God! Karl Vater writes, “While many small churches may not be able to afford a lot of things we’d love to have, like the latest technology, a permanent building, or even a salary for the pastor, we will not allow any of that to stop us from being everything Jesus is calling us to be.”


What do you think? Are you comfortable believing that a small church is a good thing? I’d love to have you share your insights.

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