The good (and bad) news about small church worship ministry

The good (and bad) news about small church worship ministry

I always like to hear the bad news first. Don’t sugar-coat it. Just lay it on me so I can deal with it. So for those of you who are like me, here’s the bad news about small church worship ministry:

People aren’t coming to your church because of the music.

Typically, if your church is less than 200 people, you’re in what’s called a “relational church.” (For more on this concept, see “Taking Your Church to the Next Level” by Gary McIntosh). While there might be a variety of things that get people in your front door, the glue that keeps them coming back is the relationships with others.

Earlier in my vocational ministry adventures, I served in two churches that were squarely in the “relational church” category. The first ranged from 75-90, and the second 90 – 120 (total attendance, kids and dogs included). Both struggled to pay a second staff person. And in both situations, the churches’ financial struggles eventually dictated the loss of my position.

During my tenure at each church, I worked to elevate the quality of the music and flow in the worship services. When it came time to leave each church, the quality of the music and service at both suffered because they weren’t able to hire a replacement worship pastor/leader.


Neither church lost significant attendance when I left. Sure, some people missed what I contributed. But that wasn’t enough for them to move on. They weren’t connected to the church because of the music.

And it isn’t just the quality of worship that can ebb and flow without significantly affecting the church. Think about all the smaller churches that weather a revolving door of senior pastors. Every three to five years they have a new man at the helm.

How do they maintain relatively stable attendance during frequent leadership turnover? What keeps the people there?

The people are what keeps the people. Not the sermons and not the music. Those things do matter, but in a relational-sized church, not as much as the horizontal connectedness of the members.

And that leads us to the good news:

People aren’t coming to your church because of the music.

That’s right. So relax. Don’t hold yourself to the standards of the 500-member church down the street. And certainly not the 5000-member church across town. Don’t try to be something your not. Don’t sweat that you don’t have a drummer. Or a bass player. Or any musicians.

Remember the second truth we talked about in the last article – God has given your church has what it needs right now to do what you need to do right now.

We need to learn to be great stewards of that. If all you have are thirty chairs in a rented room with a $19 CD player, God will honor you making the most of that cheap stereo.

If God has given your church a pianist and an acoustic guitarist, awesome. Just don’t try to make them sound like 6-piece rock band. They are what they are. Encourage and develop them to make great music with two instruments.

And the best news about the “good news” side of this coin? You can take time while you’re smaller to prepare for what God might have for you down the road. Take to heart the words in Zechariah 4:3 – “Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.”

Use this time develop systems and structures that allow for growth, not hinder it, like…

…a system that keeps your team outward focused and encourages new players to be raised up.

…a plan for qualifying potential new players. Just because they’re breathing and play an instrument doesn’t mean you want them on your team.

…an intentional rotation of music that helps your congregation and your people to know and internalize your music.

And spend time teaching your team members what it is to truly worship, and how to lead others in it. Who knows how God will use the foundation you build in the “day of small things.” The important thing is to start building now with what you’ve been given.

To help you move that direction, the remaining articles in this series will be focusing on some of the practical things to grow and strengthen your small church worship team. So get out the plumb line and let’s make the most of this day of small things.


If you’d like to dig deeper into Small Church/Big Worship, I’m offering coaching groups for small church worship leaders. They designed (and priced) with the smaller church worship leader in mind. The session in August has one space left, but we’ll be starting a new group in the early fall, scheduled with the UK time zone in mind. You can learn more at

Jon Nicol is a worship leader and teacher who loves helping people use their gifts and abilities to worship Jesus. Having served in both smaller and larger churches, including a few years at a multi-campus ministry, he has a heart for leaders with less-than-ample resources and volunteers. He lives in Lexington, Ohio with his wife, Shannon, and their three kids.