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Karl Vater has an interesting article at Christian Today today on “How to Tell if a Small Church is Strategic or Stuck).

One of his points is that some churches are ‘small for a while’.  Vater writes:

This is the spot most small church pastors think they’re in. I know I did. For over two decades in three different churches I thought serious growth was just around the corner. It was a long corner.

As it turned out, my church was small for much more than a while (it still is), so we started being intentional about it.

But some small churches are only small for a while. The problem is, no one knows how long that will last. So here’s my suggestion.

While you’re a small church, be a great small church. Don’t put all your energy into growth. Work on health. It’s better to become a healthy church that grows than an unhealthy one that grows, right?

If your church is small right now, but is being healthy during the time you’re small, you’re not stuck, you’re strategic.

Most churches in America are small.

There are 300,000 churches in America.  If every person in America went to church this Sunday, each church would only have just over 1000 people in attendance.

That’s a LOT of churches.

And a LOT of small churches.

I agree with Vater that most pastors think their church will only be small for a while.

And most never turn the corner from small to ‘larger’ (whatever that means).

We’ve equated small churches many time with words like unhealthy, stagnant, dying, or stuck.

And we sure have our share of those kinds of churches.

But we also have a bunch of churches that are healthy, pastored by a guy (or gal) that feels guilty that their church is small.

That’s too bad.

Small isn’t necessarily bad, as Vater says, if you’re healthy.

And that’s the problem for many of us (myself included) many times.

Can a church remain small and truly be ‘healthy’?

If people are consistently being introduced to Jesus, shouldn’t the numbers grow?

And if people are being discipled to be more like Jesus, shouldn’t that spark some semblance of evangelism and growth?

In many churches, growth is happening, but the numbers don’t show it.  More people are simply moving away than moving in. Sometime you have to grow 20% to grow 10% on paper. The growth chart looks to be stagnant.

On the other side, some churches are so inwardly focused on growing deep that they ignore that world they are called to reach. They think they’re healthy… and I would tend to differ.

So… how do you describe a healthy church?  What makes a church healthy?

And have you spent time feeling guilty just because your church is ‘small’?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.


SOURCE:  Read more from Karl Vater here at Christianity Today


One of the most common reasons for pastoral leadership mistakes is blindness to the significance of church size. Size has an enormous impact on how a church functions. There is a “size culture” that profoundly affects how decisions are made, how relationships flow, how effectiveness is evaluated, and what ministers, staff, and lay leaders do. We tend to think of the chief differences between churches mainly in denominational or theological terms, but that underestimates the impact of size on how a church operates. The difference between how churches of 100 and 1,000 function may be much greater than the difference between a Presbyterian and a Baptist church of the same size. The staff person who goes from a church of 400 to a church of 2,000 is in many ways making a far greater change than if he or she moved from one denomination to another. A large church is not simply a bigger version of a small church. The difference in communication, community formation, and decision-making processes are so great that the leadership skills required in each are of almost completely different orders. via Leadership & Church Size Dynamics | The Resurgence. What do you think?  

My friend Kent Shaffer hits a great point over at the Church Relevance blog:  What is most interesting about these lists is no longer the data itself but rather how many churches are choosing to no longer take part in these studies. Kent continues:  “From a research perspective, this nonparticipation is sad. But theologically speaking, the reasons many churches choose to not broadcast their numbers are quite noble. Many nonparticipating churches just don’t want to negatively affect other churches. And, of course others, just forget to report their numbers to the researchers.” I agree.  I think there’s one other possible reason that some churches aren’t reporting their numbers this year.  I think… just possibly… that some churches may not have reported their numbers because their numbers are down. I mean, who wants to go from the 5th largest church in America to 8th? When this whole list thing started a few years back, it was fun.  It was interesting.  And, the first list ever presented, was probably the most honest. Human tendency says that the next year, the pressure was on to put up a better number for the list than the year before.  Now years into it, it’s more and more difficult to produce an honest number that looks better the year before’s number.  After all, you have people out there (like Kent!) who actually look at the numbers and compare them to other lists and other years. I’m not saying that churches knowingly fudge their numbers.  Not at all.  I’m just saying that there is an inherent pressure to make your numbers look better than last year’s numbers.  And if you can’t, maybe you don’t participate in the top 100 list. Of course, this is just a theory.  It could be that some of these churches are just taking the more noble approach as Kent suggests, or that they simply forgot to report their numbers. I respect the people who do the research on the list.  I know them, and they are honest researchers and publishers.  Unfortunately for them though, having a top 100 list where a growing number of churches refuse to participate does not help their cause.  You simply can’t have a top 100 list when part of the 100 is not included. What do you think?  Do you look at the top 100 lists?  Are they helpful?  Do you think they’ve run their course?  And do they lose any credibility when not everyone is included? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Todd