small church


What is the strength of your church?  What is its mission?  Who are the target audience?  Are you focused enough to check progress, or are you scattering random seed to the wind?  You have to plant the right seed in the right soil to gain the expected harvest.  Anything less will be a disappointment.

The “National Survey of Megachurch Attenders” has been released by Leadership Network (www.leadnet.org) and Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research (http://hirr.hartsem.edu/). Officially called “Not Who You Think They Are: The Real Story of People Who Attend America’s Megachurches,” it says that megachurches (over 2000 attending consistently) are more likely to attract younger, unmarried, better educated and more affluent.  It also says they attract based on paid staff (pastor and worship team), and have higher rates of uninvolved attenders.

45% of megachurch attenders never volunteer at the church, and 40 percent are not engaged in a small group, the mainstay of megachurch programming.

By contrast, the small church is focused around family or community / neighborhood.  Your task, in leading a church through a turnaround, is to know what God has called your church to do and to whom you are to minister.  Start by assessing the community needs and the available resources already available within the congregation.

For example, if your neighborhood has widows or single mothers of young children, and your congregation has mechanics or handymen, you could provide

  • free labor
  • training for minor/routine repairs
  • advice on picking a professional

All 3 are valid expressions of love and concern, and get you into the community.  True, megachurches could do it better, but the survey suggests they won’t.  That’s for you.

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1.  http://hirr.hartsem.edu/megachurch/megachurch_attender_pressrelease.html

2.  www.leadnet.org/megachurch

3.  http://hirr.hartsem.edu

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One of the problems facing struggling churches is the feeling of not knowing what else to do.  You wish someone would come help, but there’s no money for a consultant and no time or money for attending conferences.  And even if you go, it’s just you.  How do you remember enough to carry the same vision & excitement back to you church leaders?

One of the joys of the current internet is the amount of teaching that’s available online,  much of it for free.  One site I recently discovered is from the Southern Baptists in Maryland.  The BCMD equip site is full of really good short courses – videoed workshops – that are geared to the small churches in that region.

For example, tonite I learned that putting on a play or special program can be done without a lot of money.  Five dollar costumes that don’t look like bath robes.  Wooden boxes to add visual interest as portable staging.  Where to find scripts and music that won’t break the bank.

Youtube is another place to find teaching.  Browse the bookstore for church growth / church health authors and then search for them on youtube.  Chances are, someone has posted one of their conference lectures there.

I’ve also started listening to chapel lectures from seminaries and Christian colleges.  It’s inspiring to hear how pastors and teachers are working out their faith in small churches, and I pick up ideas and have my preconceived notions challenged.  Or affirmed.  David Bycroft spoke at Ozark Christian College about being a formerly small church that held auto shows and tractor pulls and family festivals to attract people to come hear the Gospel.

The resources are there.  If you can’t find one, drop me a note and I’ll help you find some.

In his seminal work Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky talks in part about overcoming objections to becoming active to create change.  The book is all about becoming a community organizer to create social or political change in general, such as union organizing or fighting City Hall.  It is a “must read” for fledgling politicians on how to build a grass-roots effort to back their cause or candidacy.

Note:  Rules for Radicals is at times quite vulgar in word use.  It was not written for use in churches, and while there is much to learn from the book, the reader must be ready to skip over some of the worst 4-letter words available.

Alinsky says one of the biggest obstacles to effective organizing is individual and group rationalization for what they do or do not do.  It is a reaction by many to a perceived accusation by the organizer, wondering why they haven’t taken action to correct so obvious an offense to their personhood.  They will often times be embarrassed they haven’t taken action themselves before and will justify their inaction by rationalizing why it could not have been done before.

The job of the organizer is to discover and uncover these rationalizations, to call them out and challenge their validity.  Usually they exist as vague notions without solid reasoning, like a thin hoar frost that disappears as soon as the sun shines the first warming rays.

As pastoral leader seeking to change your congregation, you must likewise look for the rationalizations of why your people are not acting like the people of God.  It might start with abandoning your own rationalizations of why you can’t grow, in favor of a missional mindset that says you  can do “all things” by the power of “Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly more than you could have thought or imagined.”

Then challenge the people to look to what could occur, instead of why it hasn’t happened yet.

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Alinsky, Saul.  Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals (NY: Random House/Vintage Books, 1971, reprint 1989), pp108-112

I heard again tonite a podcast I downloaded from Ozark Christian College from David Bycroft on “Celebrating the Small Church.”  He pastors a church of 700 in a Kansas town of 250, and at the time of the sermon was praying for 3000.  Briefly, here’s some of what he said:

First, know again that the impossible is possible with God.   You can build a congregation that reaches the lost.  In Bycroft’s terms, the average church takes a sports car and each week turns the ignition and “shifts into neutral,” agreeing to do exactly what was done the week before, getting the same lack of result they’ve gotten every other week.  Instead, Bycroft urged his listeners to be extraordinary by tapping into the power of God .

Second, know that it will take some work.  It will take personal prayer on your part.  You will need to teaching your people HOW to pray effectively. And you need to do what you do with intention, being a church that works hard at being God’s church.

Third, get help if you need it.  If you need to learn more, or need encouragement from seasoned pastors, remember that there are LOTS of free podcasts out there.  OCC is but one of the Christian schools that records their chapel services and makes t he sermons available for free download.  Start here.

Seth Godin is a great thinker.  His main area is marketing, but to help people market new products he needs to understand our culture, and describe the culture in ways no one else can.

This weekend I got an email to a video of a presentation Godin gave back in Feb 2003, and posted to an idea sharing site in April 2007.  It’s now over 5 years old, but is still a fantastic 18 minutes on how to stand out in getting your message across.

Be different. (more…)

Good discussion from Alan Hirsch on the nature of networks as they relate to churches.  In his posting, he starts with a basic description of networks, nodes and hubs.

Networks can be physical, like the internet -a collection of interconnected nodes of information.  Or they can be social, like joining the Rotary club or finding friends on Facebook or MySpace.

For Christians, the concept of networks can apply to a network of churches.  Whether this is an association of churches in the denomination or a monthly gathering of pastors from multiple denominations in a community, these associations are built on an understanding first that the other churches exist, and that there is some mutual benefit that may come of the association.

The concept also works as networks of individuals.   Consider the network created when a church member – a member of one node – attends a community Bible study.  When these members of individual churches join for the community study, they create a network.

As Hirsch puts it, “The effective performance of a network over time and distance will depend to a large degree on the cultivation of shared beliefs, principles, interests, and goals- perhaps articulated in an overarching ideology. This combination of beliefs and principles together form the cultural glue, or reference point, which holds the nodes together and to which the members subscribe in a deep way.”

The impact for churches is that they share knowledge, relationships and experiences they receive at one community (potentially) with every other community they participate in.  What used to be a one-to-one relationship is now a network of support.  This is important for small churches, who are often unable to do great things by themselves, but may learn of another congregation doing similar things so that the two (or more) can partner to do greater things than one alone.

If you lead a small church, and haven’t been to one of the websites that support / value small church vitality, you’re missing valuable insights and encouragement.

One such site is the Energizing Smaller Churches Network (ESCN).  They quote a Barna Research report that the typical church in America has an average worship attendance of eighty-nine adults, and that a full 60 percent of Protestant churches in our country are attended by one hundred or fewer adults in worship.

A hundred may not seem like a lot, but considering the strength of the house church movement, where congregations rarely exceed 30, that’s huge.  Even in the 2500-member church my family attends, ministry rarely happens in groups much larger than 40 or 50.  Discipleship is broken into groups of a dozen or less.  (There were 15 in prayer meeting last week.)

Hear the encouragement of ESCN:  “every church in every community in a strategic position. By virtue of its purpose and location, each church in each community is uniquely qualified to influence those closest to it for Christ.”

The church I used to serve at in Massachusetts is land-limited to a couple hundred attendees.  The youth groups runs a couple dozen.  Yet they were named one of the best in the country, and the youth pastor told me they found they were effectively penetrating the High School and ministering to around 200 students.  Similarly, the summer camp for 5-12 year olds maxes out each year at over 100, influencing the community for Christ, even though only a fraction are members of the church.  (That camp has drawn in some community residents to become strong leaders, and many children have been saved over the years.)

Helping smaller churches achieve this goal is the purpose of the ESCN.  I recommend it to you.

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