I grew up as an active member in a medium-sized church of about five hundred. When I was newly married I began ministry work in a megachurch with three services and over two thousand attendees each week. And now as a bit older and with kids growing up way too fast, I find myself in a small church plant of about forty to fifty adults (on a good week!).
I absolutely loved both of those first two churches, and they continue to do amazing kingdom work today. But never have I had more fun watching God doing “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20) than I have in recent years with the smaller church.
Whether your church is small because it’s new, or because you simply live in a small community, or because its growth has become stagnant or perhaps even sharply declined in recent years, our awesome God is still big and wanting to advance His kingdom on earth through His church. And even your smaller church can have a huge part in that. But it takes being intentional about a few things:
- Forget about the 80/20 rule. Whether in church or in business, you’ve probably heard the rule that 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people. And unfortunately it applies quite accurately in most organizations. But no matter the size of your church, but especially if it’s on the smaller side, the 80/20 rule cannot be the accepted rule of ministry. And I don’t mean simply bringing up the 80/20 rule on Sundays. All that will do is get 20 percent of the people giving 80 percent of the “Amens!” You must also go beyond focusing your sermons, blogs, and other teaching materials on 1 Corinthians 12 and other “body of Christ” scriptures. The lifetime churchgoers in your congregation have been told a thousand times that whether they are a hand, foot, or ear, they are equally important in the church body. What they haven’t been told, unfortunately, is “You are a hand, and we need you to help us by [fill in the blank].”
The best way around the 80/20 rule is to simply approach the 80 percent personally and ask them to help in a specific way. Your church has men who were taught by their dads how to do oil changes and other minor car repairs. They would probably love to be asked to help single moms in the community with their car maintenance. Somewhere in your pews is a once gung-ho young adult who wanted to be a missionary before her parents scared her into a more traditional, “safe” vocation. Guess what? Your community is a mission field that she probably has incredible ideas on how to minister to in a unique way.
The point is, ask individuals personally to help; don’t only challenge a nodding congregation generically and then allow them to dismiss the notion by the time Sunday lunch is served. Your whole body can help. But they may need your help learning how.
- Do a few things right, not a bunch of things so-so. I’ve been a part of churches with dance ministries, drama ministries, food pantries, clothes closets, men’s and women’s ministries, special-needs ministries . . . the list goes on and on. I’ve seen them all done both incredibly well and amazingly mediocre. And while the rule of “if you’re going to do something, do it really well or not at all” should apply to all churches, it needs to be paid extra special attention to in smaller church bodies. A church of fifty simply cannot do all that a church of a thousand can do, and that is okay. So find where you want to focus your ministry work on, and then ask a big God to do big things.
Finding where you want your church to focus its ministry work on needs to start with your core values and mission statement. You should also not try to “compete” with the bigger church down the street in one of its strengths. If the church down the road has a popular biker ministry for the local Harley-Davidson enthusiasts, what sense does it make to try and build a similar outreach ministry? But if you have a gym or an outside basketball court and you live in a community with local teenagers wandering the streets after school, then what are you waiting for? Find a couple of young guys in your church who will start playing basketball with kids in the afternoons or evenings.
But whatever you find your niche to be, go all-in with it and let our big God do His thing with your small church body.
- Don’t be tempted to do it all yourself. After you get the help you need as we discussed with the first point . . . after you establish the church’s ministry focus, per point two . . . do not fall into the temptation of believing that you as the pastor have to be highly involved in every event that takes place. Sometimes the hand in the body of Christ just needs its five fingers to do the work. That way the foot can go home and rest. You were called by God to be the pastor, the leader—not the do-it-aller. You asked for help and got it. Now let them help. You asked for others to take the lead in specific areas and they answered the call. Now let them lead.
If you desire your church’s ministry work to live and die based on your availability, then by all means, try to do it all while keeping a healthy family at the same time. I don’t believe you will care too much for the results, however. But if you want to see a big God do big things in your small church, then let the body perform the way its Creator meant it to. And that might mean you taking a back seat.
Kevin Harvey is the author of two books, which can both be found here at Amazon. You can also read about his family’s ongoing journey of adoption through foster care at www.OrphanToOrphan.com. Find him on Twitter at @PopCultureKevin.