A few years after college, I was a part-time assistant pastor in the oh-so-coveted “dual role” of youth & worship in a small church. About 60-some people small.
One of the problems (with me, not the church) was that I had been involved with the youth ministry and played on the worship team at Church of the Open Door in the Minneapolis, MN area. Open Door was large. Like 6000 large.
And really, that wasn’t the problem either. The problem was that I wanted my 60-some person church to be more like a 6000-person church, especially in the area of worship. I was trying to make it “Church of the Mini-Door.”
It was frustrating. For me, but probably far worse for those I inflicted my ministry upon.
If I could go back to my 23 year-old self, I think I’d say a few things to him. First, “Relax, tiger.” Though I doubt that would curb his (my) uber-enthusiasm, it might get him to shut up long enough to listen to a few things that I’ve learned along the way.
But I doubt it.
Nonetheless, here are three truths about small churches I wish I would have understood then.
Truth #1: Small churches are different
Not in just the number of nickels and noses that come through the door. Sure, small churches are certainly different in the quantity of people and budgets and buildings, but also in qualitative sense. And by quality, I don’t mean Walmart vs. Macy’s kind of quality. At its essence, a small church is different from a large church.
One of the significant dividing lines is the 200-person attendance mark. We’ll discuss this more in an upcoming article. But summed up, churches of less than 200 are dubbed “relational” churches.
Everyone knows everyone.
In this “relational church” category, church adherence is far more based on relationships with each other than a desire for programs or the draw of a charismatic leader. Music is one of the areas most affected by this size dynamic. But this is significant enough that it gets it’s own article in this series. So hold on for that.
Truth #2: Small churches have everything they need right now
My 24-year-old self would probably punch me in the throat after I told him this truth.
This is a tough one to swallow. At my first church, my annual music budget was the same number as my average bowling score. And I’m a lousy bowler.
But I believe God gives us what we need right now to do the ministry He has called us to right now. And as He calls us to do more, by faith we step out while He provides.
Look at Samson battling the Philistines with a donkey jaw. All he had was a fresh jawbone and the Spirit of the Lord. That was plenty.
And think of David. He would have gotten spanked by Goliath had he gone out dressed in Saul’s armor. But he took the weapon he already had (and knew how to wield) and kicked some giant-tail. Again, with the Spirit of the Lord upon him.
The third truth is the most vital.
Truth #3: Small churches are still THE church
It doesn’t matter whether there’s 30 or 3000 in a local church. They are the local body of The Church of Jesus Christ – a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God, called out of darkness and into light.
And we are to be the light for the area in which we live. Hillsong has come to London and New York. And as awesome as that is, they still have less of a chance to bring the presence of Jesus Christ to the cities of Mansfield, UK or Mansfield, OH than the body of believers who are already in those cities.
A small church, unified and empowered by the Spirit of God has a greater ability to bring true hope and healing to a community, a town, a neighborhood or a school district than the mega-church 30 miles down the road.
So let me encourage you – worship leader, musician or pastor in a small church – to embrace these truths as you minister to your people each week. God has you there for a reason, he has and will give you all you need, and you ARE the mighty Church built upon the Rock of Jesus Christ.
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.