I just got off the phone this morning with a representative from Compassion International. You’ve probably heard of them, if not, go here. The staffer who interviewed me is also working on a Masters and her thesis is on How Organizations Overcome Obstacles. Kristin shared with me how CI has done pretty well in reaching out to and working with larger churches but have recently admitted that they have not done so well with small churches. She wanted my help in understanding better the ethos of small churches.
I asked Kristin what did she mean by ‘small church?’ She replied, 250 or less. I told her that this wasn’t a bad definition as long as she realized that more than half of churches under 250 would be under 100. Further more, I explained that a church of 50 is significantly different than a church of 250. And if you think about it, a church of 100 can be different than a church of 250. Because of this, I shared that CI’s desire to understand the culture of a small church would be difficult. There are different subsets of the 250. I would identify these as, 0 – 50, 50 – 100, 100 – 175, and 175 – 250.
What range of ‘small church’ does your church fall under?
My experience in working with pastors of small churches is that many will never break the 50 barrier, or the 100 barrier, or the 175 barrier, or the 250 barrier. But wait a minute…where does it say that there is a ‘barrier’ that we have to break through? The Church Growth Movement of the 80’s and 90’s told us there was a 200 barrier to break through, and then a 500 barrier to break through, and on and on and on. I’m not convinced that there is such a barrier to break through. Having said that, I’m not suggesting that we quit trying to reach new people with the good news of Jesus, but that we learn to be content without becoming complacent.
I think the biggest barrier small churches need to break through is the barrier of self doubt.
We can be small and think small. We can focus on what we can’t do rather than what we can do. We can listen to our church-culture that tells us because we are small that there is something wrong with us, we are broken and need to be fixed. We can be made to feel invisible, insignificant, and pathetic. But these are all lies.
Each subcategory of 250 has it’s own unique beauty and challenges, it’s own strengths and weaknesses. What if we’re more concerned about breaking ‘growth barriers’ than God is? What if God is more concerned about having the healthiest church possible regardless of it’s size? Once again, a healthy church will want to reach new people, but that is a focus all churches are having a hard time with, even if they are above 250.
I expect to have more discussions with Compassion International as they try to understand your world better. They seem very sincere. I don’t think it’s about getting you to partner with them. They want to learn how to partner with you. Kristin called the small church, “an untapped resource.” I agree.
Break through your barrier of self doubt.