You may be wondering where to draw the line between the larger and smaller church…and that’s a fair question. Since nearly 2/3 of Assemblies of God churches welcome less than 100 to weekend worship and more than 80% have fewer than 200, there’s probably a lot more of us on the smaller side of that line than the larger.
One research number of note will help us define the boundary between the two. In our own fellowship, larger congregations (more than 200 in worship attendance) grew by nearly ¼ million in the last decade while smaller churches (less than 200) declined. Since this growth gap shows that churches under 200 are experiencing a very different reality than those above 200, that’s where we’ll draw the line. But even if you find yourself a bit above that, I think you’ll find this discussion to still be quite helpful.
In many ways, the larger church sets the pace for the church at large. New programs and ministries are typically developed there, guest speakers at conferences come from there, and ideas of how to grow churches and lead them to health often originate there as well. And yet, the smaller church isn’t typically experiencing similar results, much to the frustation of the smaller church pastor who attends conferences, buys numerous books, and works diligently to learn from those he sees as more successful.
And, when the smaller church compares itself to the larger church, it often cannot see it’s smaller victories as true success. The results of a good Sunday in a smaller church are dwarfed by the amazing, and more-often reported, numbers of the larger church. After awhile, pastors in smaller settings feel isolated and unsatisfied as they try to reach standards that their smaller settings keep out of reach.
Today, a lot of us are becoming more aware that the smaller church and the larger church are very different entities. While in some places and with certain types of leaders a smaller church can grow to become a larger church, more often the real destinies on the path of health are different for the smaller congregation. Pastors shoudn’t just decide that their church is destined to be small, but they do need to discard measuring sticks that have been drawn and defined in larger settings. There are different targets to aim for—and when those targets are hit, the church will simultaneously move into its fullest growth potential.
So the word to smaller church pastors isn’t to give up on growth. Instead, it’s time for every church to figure out what it was truly designed to be. For some, that means removing the supermodel photograph from the edge of the mirror and choosing a goal that really fits the church’s passion, abilities, and the needs of the community where God has planted them.
In Part 2, we’ll begin to consider how you can do that…stay tuned!