Leading the Smaller Congregation – Part 2

There are numerous realities that differ between the smaller and larger setting.

  • Societal shifting – General population has been moving from the small place to the large place for many years now. This relocation of people has caused the shrinking of many communities, which affects the opportunities of many smaller churches.
  • Consumer mentality – As people continue to become more consumer-minded and individualistically focused, they seek out churches with wider menus of ministries or the resources necessary to achieve higher levels of excellence.
  • Differing resources – The smaller church simply doesn’t have access to the resources of the larger church. Where there are fewer people, there are fewer financial resources, fewer ministry giftings, and more limited options for ministry development. As one pastor said, “If I don’t have what you have, I can’t do what you do.”
  • Varying leadership gifts – While there is great diversity among the leadership gifts found in churches of all sizes, pastors of larger churches often have more dominant leadership gifts than those in smaller churches. In his book, There’s Hope for Your Church, an excellent resource for small church health and development, Gary McIntosh says that smaller church pastors tend to be more relationally-focused and often possess less action-oriented leadership styles. Using the essence of the DISC profile, we can understand these styles  and see how they differ.

In the DISC profile, primary leadership personalities are defined as Dominance, Influence, Conscientious, and Supportive. Studies indicate that as many as 80% of pastors are primarily C or S personalities, with an even higher percentage among smaller church leaders. In fact, the majority of church planters and larger church leaders are primarily D or I personalities.

This difference is highly important as the way these personalities lead is significantly different from one another. D and I personalities tend to lead more effectively “from the podium” while C and S personalities lead more easily in relational settings.

  • Unresolved conflicts – While the larger church certainly isn’t free of conflicts, the smaller church feels the impact of conflict to a much greater degree since a higher percentage of the congregation will be aware and even involved in the conflict. In the smaller church, the pastor must be able to effectively aid his people in resolving conflict for when such conflicts are not effectively resolved, they create a difficult environment for health and growth.
  • Struggles with control – The smaller church is more likely to choose lay leaders who lack leadership experience in other areas of life. Even among experienced leaders, battles for control can emerge. Because of a lack of other leaders to choose from, many smaller churches maintain the same leaders for many years, and ultimately are shaped both by their strengths and their weaknesses. Since pastoral turnover tends to be higher in smaller churches, many pastors lack the tenure and leadership credibility to effectively manage those who may have “had control” for an extended period of time.
  • A “Culture of Can’t” – Pastors who have struggled with the limited resources of the smaller church for many years can develop a mentality that rejects the benefits of new ideas because they simply don’t have the needed resources. If we can’t improve our music because we have no musicians, or we can’t develop a particular ministry because we lack the ministry leaders, or we can’t attempt a particular outreach because we don’t have the money or facilities, we can begin to write “CAN’T” over every idea we hear. And, the truth is, in the smaller church, sometimes we really can’t.

When a culture of can’t takes over a smaller church, the pastor and congregation become more entrenched in the status quo and more resistant to possible solutions. If the church has attempted a few new ideas only to fail, the resistance becomes even more firm.

Now, looking at these differences, you might think the smaller church is at a significant disadvantage, but next week we will explore the unique potential that the smaller church possesses. There’s good news ahead!!

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