The One Big Problem With Small Churches


You know me…I’m a big cheerleader of small churches. I’ve dedicated the last ten years of my life to encourage and resource pastors of small churches. With very few exceptions, big churches have no real advantage over small churches. By this I mean that small churches can do everything that larger churches do if they are willing to do it on a smaller scale. Our fascination with numbers and size has nothing to do with the Bible, and everything to do with our Western culture.

Christian Schwartz (Natural Church Development) popularized the concept that we must focus on health instead of numbers. He surveyed 1000 churches and discovered 8 common areas that indicated health or lack of it. He developed a tool that churches can use to discover how well they score on these areas so that they might focus on their weakest areas. The only thing I don’t like about NCD is it’s assumption that healthy churches will grow. This often times is the case but not always.

The eight areas:

  • leadership that empowers laity
  • serving according to giftedness
  • a passionate spirituality/enthusiasm
  • small groups
  • evangelism done by those with the gift
  • loving relationships
  • structures in place that work.
  • inspiring worship services.

Schwartz discovered that small churches out-scored larger churches in all but one of these eight area: inspiring worship services.

Schwartz reports, “…there is a diminishing quality with increasing church size.”

Having said all this, let me suggest the one big problem of small churches.

Small churches are more fragile than larger churches. By this I mean that it is easier to kill a smaller church than it is a larger church. And by this I don’t mean that if you kill a small church it necessarily closes it’s doors. A person can be dead but placed on life-support for some time. Only a miracle will bring the person back. A miracle, or some new medical discovery.

Some churches are on life-support. Only a miracle or some discovery will bring them back. It’s really, really hard to turn a church around once they reach this place. It can happen, but not very often.

All of this explains why gossip, slander, pastoral failure, one or two key families leaving, a sudden drop in giving, etc. can be more devastating in a small church than it might be in a large church. Larger churches can rebound easier than small churches.

Because of this, the pastor of a small church must work harder at growing a healthy church than the pastor of a larger church. In a small church, often times church health is the key to church survival. Focus on growing a healthy church and leave the numbers to God.