In my experience, one of the key differences between the large church and the small church is the number of things they try to do. The smaller church tries to do more things. They try to offer every good idea they’ve seen from big churches and they stretch their people, their resources, and their abilities to unreasonable limits. Not long ago, I was speaking to a group of pastors and I asked them to list the kind of outreach efforts their church does. One pastor read me a list of 23 things—food pantry, clothing drive, single mom’s outreach, school supplies for kids, city-wide fun day, Easter Egg Hunt, and 17 more. When he finished, I was tired and I don’t go to his church.
I asked him about the size of the congregation and he told me they had about 45 people attending their church. I started doing some math, knowing that 20% of the people typically do 80% of the work—I immediately assumed that there are nine very tired people in that church. The lady sitting next to him looked tired and maybe even a bit bitter toward ministry. I assumed she was his wife.
Large churches and healthy churches do fewer things, and they learn to do them extremely well. They’re intentional in their outreach efforts. They think through the best ways to impact their community with the gifts and resources they have. They want to present themselves with excellence in the community, knowing that people who experience our weaker moments are seldom drawn to us or to our message.
And right here is where the smaller church melts in frustration, because many have given up trying. They hear a new idea for ministry and their first response is “We can’t do that.” They listen to the stories of the successful and they applaud at the right moments, but the story doesn’t translate because the list of things we can’t do seems overwhelming at times.
There are many times you feel you can’t do something and you’re right! You may not have the people to make that program work. You may not have the facility for offering that ministry. You don’t have the resources to do some things as well as the church down the street. You say you can’t and you’re right! Boy, this is depressing…
But there is something you can do. Just as God pours gifts and abilities into individual lives, He invests gifts and capacity in every congregation. And there are some things you can do extremely well.
When Kerry and I first went to Maranatha, we found an older congregation. I won’t take time to prove that point, but we had three babies in the nursery and three adult Sunday school classes, all dominated by older adults. I love those people dearly, but many were at the place in life where they were slowing down. Some had stopped altogether. The church was paying a girl $20/week to work that nursery ‘cause we didn’t have the congregational energy for a three-baby nursery.
Music wasn’t really our thing. We had a good youth pastor with a guitar and a merry little band that helped him, but the 12-year olds working the overhead transparencies sometimes struggled to keep up, while the mega-church up the street made every Sunday a major production.
Our teachers were tired; the few outreaches we had fit the inner city where we’d come from but not the suburb we’d relocated to. The list of things we couldn’t do would take two clipboards. But we found one thing we could do. I began to notice that in spite of our limitations, these people genuinely loved people when they came in our door.
We had a few folks who were genuinely friendly. I don’t mean the typical church where friendly means we’re friendly to each other. These people aggressively extended themselves to people, wanting to genuinely love them, and suddenly we had found our strength.
So we worked on it. We learned together how to love people well. We made it our priority and God began to bring us people to love. There’s no real secret to how that congregation quadrupled in size, with mostly young adults and international friends. That church with the three-baby nursery dedicated 230 babies in the next ten years. And it’s still happening. Go visit that wonderful congregation, just don’t drink from the water fountains unless parenting is your dream.
There’s no secret—we simply found what we do well, and it turns out that our community needed it. We found our best and God brought us the people who needed it.
That’s what you should be doing–the one thing you do very well. Find it, maximize it, perfect it, and watch your strengths lead your congregation to new momentum!