Serving At A Small Church

Personally, I don’t like referring to any church “small” or “big.” That’s simply offensive and rude. How would you like when someone calls you small or big? You don’t read Paul ever addressed any of the churches “I, Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, send greeting to you, a small church.” You won’t find that in Peter’s Letters. In John’s Letters. Certainly not in the Letters to Seven Churches by Jesus.

What’s small or big is relative. What’s small in this country can be big in another country. I heard from missionaries who served in France and Italy that you would be lucky to find an evangelical Bible-preaching church that is more than 30 people in attendance. Here in North America many church-goers simply have no idea. We are guilty of measuring everything by American standard, such as, big is better.

There are many pastors I know that are serving at churches that are not bustling with people on Sundays. Some are OK with it. Some are struggling. But pastors will always struggle with this issue. It’s normal. It’s abnormal if they’re not.

Several years ago I wrote “Ministering in Small Churches and/or in Small Towns” while serving at a church that I planted in South Dakota. This will give you some helpful perspective and reality, especially, serving in the Upper Midwest.

I also wrote “How To Have An Expository Preaching At A Small Church?” as a response to many questions I was asked by church-planters and discouraged pastors.

If you want to hear another perspective from another pastor, check out “6 Ways Small Churches Can Love Their Communities.

Be of good cheer.

Losing Focus in a Small Church and What to Do About It

Everyone can lose his or her focus, given enough time. Churches are no different. Within one generation a church can move from a vibrant soul-saving beacon of light, to a dim ember that is about to go out. I’ve seen it. I’ve pastored in those churches. But in Jesus Christ there is always hope. Just as Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb so that he could live to proclaim his Savior’s praise, so too Jesus desires to call dead and dying churches back to life for His glory.

Although many more Bible churches need to be planted, there are an abundance of churches that already exist, that have lost their focus and have become inwardly focused and outwardly stagnant. Imagine if 100 dying churches once again became alive in their communities what an impact we could make!

If you find your church in this situation, don’t leave. Don’t jump ship. Instead, ask yourself these questions to begin to determine how you can begin to turn around your church:

  • Are we seeking to fulfill the Great Commission or are we merely in a maintenance mode?
  • Are we making excuses for ourselves (the area has changed; the church down the road keeps stealing our members), or are we dealing honestly with our own sins and faults?
  • Are we seeking programs and gimmicks to be our savior instead of seeking the will of the One who walks among our churches (Eph 2:1)?
  • Are we looking back to the “glory days” of the past instead of looking forward to the glory days that God has in store for our future?

May the Lord guide our churches that have lost their way into becoming vibrant, soul-saving beacons once again so that the glory of God may shine bright.

Ministering in Small Churches and/or in Small Towns

First of all, I would highly recommend you read “Small-Town Ministries and Shepherds.”

Also, read one of my past posts “How To Have An Expository Preaching Church?

Both posts address some aspects of ministering in small churches and/or in small towns in America.

In one of the leadership meetings at a church that I used to shepherd in the Upper Midwest, I distributed the copies of David Van Biema’s Time Magazine article “A Rural Exodus” (February 9, 2009), which I would highly encourage you to read. Van Biema’s thesis is that many pastors and/or fresh out of seminarians are not interested in small town churches. He notes what many guys think: “A town without a Starbucks scares them.”

What also caught my attention from the article is that only 1 out of 5 churches have a full-time seminary-trained pastor in parts of the Midwest. I believe it. I see it. And I know it. Such statistic does not even qualify what type of seminary training, since not all seminary training is equal.

Like many pastor friends of mine who serve in small rural areas, I too get offended by statements like “All you need is a Bible college degree to serve at a small town church” or “You don’t need a formal training to serve at a small town church” and other similar nonsense. First, it is wrong for pastors to think so low of small churches and/or small towns. Second, it is wrong for churches (regardless of what size) to have such a low view of minister’s qualification. That’s like saying, “It doesn’t matter if my surgeon didn’t go through all the medical training as long as he likes to open people up.” What nonsense! If there are standards and qualifications for our local school teachers, dentists, car mechanics, and surgeons, shouldn’t we also have standards and qualifications (more so) for men to accurately handle the word of God?

Missiologically speaking, I see a huge need for churches to revitalize in small towns all across America, especially, in the Upper Midwest. In some sense I am glad to see churches close down when they are no longer qualified as a biblical church. In fact, I’m praying that more would close their doors. However, I do feel for some of the genuine remnants of God that cannot find a healthy church in their towns or surrounding towns so they have to drive 2 hours or so. That is the case in many parts, such as North Dakota, where I helped a group of people who wanted to plant a church there.

A Biblical Church Life – Part 1

I’m currently taking a break from Matthew (which I’m enjoying) and preaching through the book of Acts (which I’m also enjoying).

This evening (11/25) we came to another pivotal part in the book of Acts that I felt I was doing injustice if I would to simply overlook Acts 6:1-6. To understand the first half of Acts 6 is critical in number of ways (this would be evident through exposition) since we are striving to become a biblical church that glorifies God. Although our text consists of only six verses, it is a storehouse full of God’s truth that directly impacts the life and growth of our church and other churches too.

To better help our folks understand this particular narrative in this text, I made four interpretive observations, which serve as four implicational principles that would help us to understand a biblical church life. Because I feel that this particular section of Acts is important for us as a church, I’ve decided to take tonight and next time around to look in-depth at this. As a matter of fact, I barely finished covering verse 1 this evening. Here are my four interpretive observations:

  1. Numerical growth is up to God (v. 1).
  2. A genuine church growth has to do with increase in discipleship-making, not just pew warmers on Sundays (v. 1).
  3. It is inevitable that someone in the church will complain (v. 1).
  4. Churches cannot ignore the needy widows in their congregation (v. 1).

If you want to hear how these points flesh-out, you can listen here.

A Biblical Church Growth Model

Over the past thirty to forty years, there has been incredible obsession with church growth strategies and methods that churches have never experienced before. There are more books written on how to grow a church using the latest Madison Avenue marketing programs than ever. Pastors and church-planters have particularly been the primary consumers that have bought and brought these things into churches, and we are now reaping what churches have sown.

Churches are now more concerned about being cool and culturally-adapting than being a church that is matured and culturally-confronting and transforming. Churches are now more concerned about how many show-up on Sunday morning than how many are genuinely saved and being discipled. Churches are now more concerned about how to make people (especially, the unregenerate ones) to like us than whether God is really pleased with us. Churches are now more concerned about how to make Christianity to sound acceptable and inclusive than really understanding what exactly the message of Christianity is. I’ve only begun to scratch the surface here.

Having said all that, I do not want us to head toward other extreme, namely, ignoring and not caring about the subject of genuine church growth. The subject of church growth should not be belittled or ignored. Every Christian who loves Christ should love his church and be concerned about her genuine health and growth. But the question is – from whose perspective should we look at church growth? God’s or man’s?

Unlike the present day church growth methods and models, God’s method and model that is found in Scripture, especially, in Acts 5:12-42 is so radically different. Unfortunately, the message that is found in this text falls on deaf ears of many. Tonight I preached on that text and the message entitled “A Biblical Church Growth Model.”

Looking at this text in light of what happened in previous narrative cause me to raise some observations and questions. Here we have a picture of the world that is watching as a church is making a transition from the aftermath of the death of Ananias and Sapphira. Can you think what the congregation may have gone through with such shocking incident? How would you feel when a congregation starts to experience people staying away from the church? How do you think the apostles have felt as the leadership of this church? How do you renew the church’s morale with the loss of their own members who were divinely disciplined out of the church? How do you assure a congregation that God still loves them when God just demonstrated his judgment? These are some of the questions that I was pondering.

Without a doubt God’s way of growing his church is radically transcendent than the Madison Avenue approach. And I wanted to help our congregation to see what I mean from our text tonight. With that in mind, I’ve pointed out five means of a church growth:

  1. A church growth as a result of church discipline (vv. 12-14).
  2. A church growth as a result of verifiable realities and testimonies (vv. 12-16).
  3. A church growth as a result of continual proclamation of God’s message (vv. 17-21a).
  4. A church growth as a result of persecution (v. 17f).
  5. A church growth as a result of perseverance (vv. 27-32, 41-42).

If you want to hear how these points flesh out you can listen here.