There have been times when I have felt at a great ministry disadvantage compared to larger churches who can offer many more worship services and ministry opportunities to their congregations – and serving opportunities to the community. People have even left our church because we offer only one service time, or our children and youth ministries are quite small compared to others. That can be discouraging if it happens multiple times. But… there are many advantages to a smaller church – not that we want to stay as small as we are that we’re always struggling to keep the doors open. But if we do ministry in a healthy way, and organize ourselves appropriately, we can have a powerful impact on people’s lives and in our community for the Kingdom! Take a look at the excerpts below from an article by Brandon O’Brien and see what I mean. We have strengths that you may not have even thought of!
Five strengths that Smaller Churches offer more readily – and more often
1. Authenticity Almost intuitively, church leaders recognize that their church needs to be perceived as authentic if they want people to visit and come back. Spend a few minutes looking at church websites online, and you’ll find “About” pages describing churches as having “authentic worship,” “authentic community,” and “authentic service. These instincts seem to be accurate. A poll at the website ChurchMarketingSucks.com reveals that the number one reason people return to churches after an initial visit is because they deem the church “authentic.” The next most popular reason is the pastor’s preaching. The church’s programs only pulled five percent of the vote. What this means for churches is that authenticity is a consistent factor in a person’s choice to join a worshiping community.
First, be yourself. My first pastorate was in a tiny country church many miles from the nearest street light. Our music was off-key; my preaching was fair to middling at best. But college students showed up in droves, because they appreciated the unpretentious, “authentic” community we fostered. If we had tried to “glam up” the worship service, we would have turned these students away. The more glitzy, “professional” worship services at larger churches can turn off some who are looking for a more authentic worship experience.
Second, make sure your behavior lines up with your stated convictions. Churches of all sizes will claim to be a family, but the larger the church, the more likely it’s run like a business with worship and programming professionalized, and congregants less directly involved in the church’s ministry. Small churches, on the other hand, more often truly function as a family—with all the blessings and challenges that includes.
2. Lean and Focused Smaller churches often don’t have the financial resources or the volunteer pool to run a broad schedule of church programs. Not to worry. Instead of running a multitude of generic programs, a better use of resources and energy in the small church is to zero in on one or two programs that focus on the unique needs of your local context. A smaller congregation can benefit from learning to value depth over volume. They can channel their limited resources into a smaller number of programs and potentially do these fewer things with greater depth and effectiveness. For example, if several of your church members work at a nearby school and feel compelled to ensure the quality of education for the children in your neighborhood, perhaps your church’s unique ministry could focus on adopting the local school and providing mentors, tutors and scholarships for extracurricular activities. The possibilities are as unique and endless as the neighborhoods we live in, our church’s gifts and the families we want to reach for Christ.
3. People-Powered If a small church limits the number of programs it runs, then the lion’s share of the church’s ministry will have to come from its members. One creative way small churches are addressing this challenge is by finding ways to equip their congregants to minister where they are already active during the week. Empowering and releasing members to minister in the community requires that you know your congregants well enough to know what they are passionate about, gifted for and already involved in. In other words, this strategy for ministry plays to one inherent strength of the smaller congregation—the pastor often knows his or her flock intimately and can more directly help congregants discover how to turn their regular responsibilities and unique giftedness into ministry opportunities.
4. Intergenerational Relationships The statistics are sobering: Some commentators project that nearly 80 percent of young people who grow up in church and youth programming end up leaving the church by the time they reach college. Fortunately, there is hope. In her research through the Fuller Youth Institute, Kara Powell has discovered a common denominator among young adults who continue to make the local church a vital part of their lives. Students who actively seek a church home after high school are those who have had meaningful relationships with other adults in the church besides their parents. Those who had been given opportunities to serve younger children in the church were also more likely to view the church as important to their lives. In other words, intergenerational relationships within the church are an important factor in making sure young people keep the faith.
Some small churches have discovered that the solution to the generation problem may be counterintuitive; instead of providing more exciting age-specific ministries, they find hope by bringing the generations together. Whether in the worship service, Sunday school, or through service projects, these churches look for ways to develop relationships across generational lines. And for this effort, the smaller the church the better! In large congregations, the generations have few opportunities to intermingle; in smaller churches, opportunities abound.
5. Ministry on the Margins According to the Hartford research referenced above, the largest churches attract a fairly well-defined demographic. The average age of a megachurch attendee is 40. Nearly a third of them are single and, on the whole, the megachurch crowd is more educated and wealthier than the average members of smaller churches. But which churches are reaching the people who fall outside this demographic and location? Small churches. Some pastors are finding that smaller churches can become an integral part of the local fabric of their communities and reach the people on the margins who often are not attracted to larger congregations.
(the above are excerpts from an article about the Advantages of a Smaller Church)
Brandon O'Brien (website: The Strategically Small Church)
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