Advice for the Small church

Advice for the Small church is an article about how to handle being small as a church versus the hoopla about big churches.

Advice for the Small church

I recently read this post The Essential First Step to Having a Healthy Small Church. Let me just say that this whole website is dedicated to small churches, and from what I have seen so far of it, it is good. Karl Vaters wrote this blog, and his first step is to STOP ASSUMING THAT SMALLNESS IS A PROBLEM TO BE FIXED.

Let me say that on the flip side of this, we should all be trying to be the best and most we can for Christ. “Bigness” is not necessarily an evil to be avoided, but each of us should recognize what God has called us to, and to accept that. Somebody in a rural community of 300 is not going to have a 2,000 member church. The expectation of something like that is just unjustified. If God has called you there, then you should not complain about it, but do the best you can with what God has given you to work with.

Let me give some tips for the small church (which our churches that we have pastored for the last 28 years have never gotten over about 65 (our present church). While you are in a rural area perhaps, I am in Mexico City, with 30 million people within 100 miles of me! Our problems with growth is a different topic though.

As God calls each one and each group, we should strive to accept that and make the best of what God calls us to do. I do not control people who come to my church. They come voluntarily. They come for one reason, that they have found a church where they feel comfortable and happy to come and worship. The pastor is at the center of that, and after everything is said and done, I am what I am sorry to say. I strive to be the example of Christ but know I fail many times and in many ways. But that striving is what apparently some accept and join us in our efforts.

I am not going to allow pastors who preach big churches like Jack Hyles did and all his followers do intimidate me. If that is what they are called to be so be it. I am not jealous of their works. If I followed their techniques, I could have a church of several thousand members.

What I see as Wrong with Big Churches

Note: My Advise to Small churches is that they do not fall into these traps. The follow is from my experience and observation. There are prices to be paid in order to achieve bigness. Maybe some churches and pastors didn’t have to do these things, but from my experience, these are factors that bear heavily on the size of a church. Meditate long and hard on these factors before you set your sights on bigness. The key principle here is that if you make your people in anyway mad at you, they will stop giving, stop giving as generously as they were giving, or possibly just leave. So you have to bow to them as far as their wishes. The choice often comes down to economic stability over obeying God in what He wants you to preach. (I am setting aside stupid preachers that offend their people without any real need nor reason to do so. They deserve what they get.)

1. You cannot offend big money givers.

When you become enslaved to “bigness”, just assume that you will kiss up to those who are rich. The rich have their spiritual problems just as the poor and normal people do. But as a pastor of the flock of God, your job, your spiritual job of ministering to these spiritual needs of your people comes before the economic welfare of your church and your personal salary and income. Preach against covetousness, or not helping your brethren economically, and they will lynch you. In fact, any references to the ungodly rich, even Lazarus and the Rich Man by Jesus, is potentially a sermon that will get strong kick back on your from your rich donors.

It is better to preach whatever God tells you, and preach against the common sins of those you face every Sunday no matter what the issue is than to be cow-tied to a group that supports and funds your economic projects. Jesus had his ministry without a building, without a big budget that showed in a large organization. Is he not somehow an example for us? Why is successful ministry strapped and restricted by money and “bigness”?

2. Your have to accept debt as a necessary evil.

I admit that I do not understand modern society. People accept debt as though there is nothing wrong with it. But I will note some examples that I have seen. In North Carolina, a church and pastor decided that they needed a larger building. They did not consider the possibility of going to two Sunday AM worship services instead, but a larger building was needed. I visited this church when that pastor had left, and the building they had could easily sit 500 people. The pastor got the church into a loan program, built the building, and offended many of his core people and they left. That is my understanding. I believe the disaster was more based on the pastor’s ego of being great, and any real need for a new building. But the church was saddled with several million dollars in debt, and then the people started leaving, and in the end, the pastor also. But the few left, about 20, had to pay $10,000 or $20,000 monthly mortgage payment, which was impossible.

Another pastor came with a retirement income from somewhere else and tried to help them. I don’t know what happened in the end. But the situation was a blemish on the testimony of Christ, and a disaster all the way around.

Again, when under a heavy mortgage on the church, the pastor is not free to preach what God tells him, because they cannot afford to lose anyone. This is clearly Satan’s work for me. Anything that hinders the preacher from preaching the message of God, that is wrong. Satan wants to stop preachers from edifying and preaching repentance on the people’s sins, and this is extremely effective for Satan. Stupid egotistic pastors think they “can handle it,” because of how great THEY ARE, get the church into trouble that cannot be later fixed. Once you demolish an old building and pay for a new one with a mortgage, you cannot go back.

3. You have to entertain to keep your people, church has to be “fun”.

“Big churches” have “learned” that you have to entertain people in order to keep that church big. This is supposedly a secret to success. But there is no secret here, and this is not success in the Lord’s work. I challenge you to show me where Jesus or any of his ministers resorted to clowns or jokes, or entertainment as a principle element in any New Testament church. Jesus Christ healed people. He made bread and meat out of thin air. It is not the same when you go to Walmart and buy bread and meat and give it to the people.

It is the highest insult to think or put our people today in the same group as the early church and their martyrs. They died because of what they believed in spiritually. They paid extremely high prices of poverty, persecution, and death for their relationship with Christ. There was no entertainment in that church’s mind. It was only work, hard and cruel that resulted in their demise as they served Christ. It is an insult to place the entertainment industry of the modern church beside these great Christians.

The early church was consumed in obeying Christ, doing God’s work, and reaching the world for Jesus. I heard of a pastor friend who told me that in a small town, a church bought the local grocery store and changed it into a super church. Their video setup costs several million dollars so that they could have microphones and cameras and put their services on cable TV. I still do not understand why broadcasting their services was so important. In our church under Covid, we broadcast our services and it has cost me only $15/month (cost of Zoom for a month) to do so. Under a certain number of people, I could use Zoom free, but we opted to use the subscription.

Note that when you start focusing on entertainment (and many churches focus their music ministry on being very entertaining or “good”) it is very hard to “go back”. It is a devil that won’t let you go. People come for that, you enjoy their tithes and offerings, and they will leave if the service isn’t entertaining them anymore. They people rarely are interested in hard things like doctrine, repentance over common sins among us, and such.

4. You have to bribe people to be participants in your church

This is another tactic of big churches. The church sees a lot of money coming in, and they really don’t know how to handle their money. So they start give-aways of free food, bikes, and other things in order to boost their attendance.

But while you may have a few adults without vehicles come in on the buses, the majority are young people or children that will not really be tithing. Their parents will give them some change or a dollar for the offering. And even that is looked upon with disdain by their parents that stay in bed to sleep late on Sunday mornings.

This sets up a duality. There are members that support the church, and their are members that come with the mentality of getting whatever they can, and they will not give anything or the least amount they can in the public view to keep getting handouts. Poor people are often people who will lie, cheat, or steal in order to live better. They will use the church to get what they can get, and their “membership” is only what they can get from the church, and not in any way wanting to worship by their own sacrifices. This indicates that they may not even be saved, and you fill your church with these people, you have to give them voting rights in church affairs or block them somehow that doesn’t work in reality. You have real members and faux members. Where is that in the Bible?

Don’t focus on numbers, but pleasing God

As a pastor and as a church, our focus should not be on numbers. Nowhere in the Bible is that a legitimate focus of any servant of God. Numbers just for numbers sake is a losing situation that will drag you into illicit methods that displease God. Those easy-believism churches that focus on numbers are spiritually off in their ministries. If you really want to know why, just “do the math”! While they may boast of 2000 in attendance, and winning 10,000 a year to the Lord, and baptizing 3,000 a year, how many years running are they doing that? Well one I checked, 15 years. By year 3 or so they were up to 500 in attendance. So let’s see, averaging 6,000 a year for 15 years that is 90,000 people supposedly saved, and they only had 2,000 in attendance, and it is doubtful that even half of those really are saved, because they don’t understand the essentials a Christian would readily know and follow. (If you stop the handouts, they disappear.) So they have a failure rate of 89 out of every 90 people “saved”. Their baptismal record total would be around 24,000 in those 15 years, or they lose 22 out of every 24 baptized, or about a 91% failure to retain baptized converts.

While they are grilling the small churches for their lack of stellar numbers like they have, just look at their own failures. In our church of 50-60 people, we baptized and retained about 18 people this year. I think maybe we have lost one or two out of them. Do you see what just happened. You can get depressed or get happy whichever you want, just study the statistics long enough and twist and spin them to your liking.

The point is not how many, but are you doing what God wants? Why would God want a small church out in the middle of nowhere? Because he wants a witness there. What would be a legitimate mission for a small church in a small town? Purity is always of more interest to Jesus than big numbers. Jesus lamented the fact that his own crowds had people that were only looking for a free meal. Although he still did miracles and produced food for them, some in that crowd was so enthralled with Christ’s teaching that they were to the point of fainting and Jesus met that need. But Christ acknowledged the chaff among his own crowds. He did not really cater to them though. That was not what the disciples preached or announced, “Come see Jesus do miracles and get a free sandwich.” If that was crass back then, why is it okay today?

Constantly search and be a magnet for anybody that truly gets saved. It is not about being big for you, but being there for those who need you. When you capture this divine mission for you, bigness nor smallness is not the issue nor is important, it is having the essentials of church for those Christians that God raises up where you are.

These essentials would be spiritual growth and discipleship by good Bible teaching, prayer for the needs of your people and church, fellowship, and evangelism (even though your expectations may not be extremely high, you are faithfully fulfilling the Great Commission in your corner of the world). Advice for the Small church

More Articles on the Church