The Dynamics of Small Church Ministry

Following excerpts are from “The Dynamics of Small Church Ministry” by John M. Koessler, published in The Master’s Seminary Journal (Fall 1992):

  • The majority of churches is North America are small – i.e., the small church is the normative institutional expression of the worshipping congregation among the Protestant denominations on the North American continent. One fourth of all Protestant congregations on this continent have fewer than thirty-five people in attendance at the principal weekly worship service, and one half average less than seventy-five;
  • The definition of “small” is a matter of disagreement. Another approach has tried to identify the small church in terms of the number of pastors who serve the church; a small church is one served by a single pastor;
  • The majority of those entering pastoral ministry will serve a small congregation. Yet most training programs appear to gear themselves for the larger church;
  • In contrast to “corporation” mentality, a small church is more likely to see itself as a family. Relational skills are valued more highly than business skills;
  • One of the positive features of a small church is that it naturally produces a sense of intimacy… the feeling of personal responsibility is more intense among its members. This produces a strong sense of ownership for the church’s ministries. Those who attend the small church may actually keep its members from holding one another accountable.
  • One of the negative features of a small church is that it produces an inferiority complex that can affect both the pastor and the congregation. Because it is overly sensitive to its resource limitations, imposed because of its size, weaknesses rather than strengths tend to shape the congregation’s self evaluation. Churches of this sort are inclined to apologize for their failures instead of celebrating their victories. It is often that deficient attitude, not the lack of skills, that hinders a small church’s development.
  • The pastor is probably correct in his assumption that the church must move away from the past if it is to grow. But it is unlikely that he will be able to make any headway until he first affirms that past. When long-time members see that he is willing to acknowledge the investment they have made and guard their history, they will probably be ready to set their sights on the future.
  • A church that is largely the result of the vision and energy of one man is going to listen carefully when that man speaks.
  • In thousands of small congregations there are no seminary-trained and ordained ministries on the scene. Even in those small-membership churches served by a seminary trained minister, the pastor usually has less influence in charting the course than is true in large congregations.
  • Small churches numbering under 100 value the personal and relational aspects of pastoral ministry. In churches that average between 100 and 200 the focus is on individual leadership characteristics. In large congregations the emphasis is placed upon organizational leadership. Even within small congregations one finds a range of expectations regarding pastoral leadership.
  • Strong pastoral leadership is needed for casting vision and providing the kind of direction that will help the church steer clear of those innate tendencies which tend to stifle its growth and development. The right to exercise such leadership is earned. The effective lay leadership is a matter of empowerment rather than employment. Too many pastors, in their eagerness to bring in the kingdom fast, act like donkey owners, treating their volunteers like dumb asses who refuse to move instead of treating them like the pearls of great price that they really are.
  • The greatest challenge facing the small church is that of growth. Congregational growth is not automatic. It is affected by complex set of factors, not all of which can be controlled by the church.
  • People are more easily attracted to new churches than to those that are already established. The challenge before the new church is to design its organizational structure in a way that prepares for future growth.
  • The blunt reality is that most churches are already competing for the same pool of worshipers. Most church growth comes from new members who transfer in from other congregations, rather than as a result of conversion.
      You may not agree everything Koessler has written; nonetheless, he offers valuable observations that put things in perspective. To read the entire article, click



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