As a speaker at a number of conferences each year, I continue to see pastors and leaders going from one workshop to another searching for “THE” answer. They show up and hear amazing stories about implausibly happy people who willingly follow a new vision for their lives and their church.
They have heard all the strategies and promises, but for many small-church leaders, the conferences, led by rock star celebrity pastors, are like “ministry pornography”– an unrealistic depiction of an experience they’ll never have that distracts them from the real and wonderful thing. In other words, the lust of the megachurch distracts them from the mission of their church. (I’m not anti-big church–I regularly preach at megachurches– but I am also pro-small church.)
The reality is that smaller churches can thrive, too. More than 65 percent of the churches that participated in the research survey for Comeback Churches–the book I co-wrote with Mike Dodson– had under 200 regular attendees. Smaller churches are not always unhealthy churches; it depends largely on their mindset. In our research, we found that the small churches which experienced revitalization often did so around prayer and outreach.
Passionate, Persistent Prayer
Small churches need to stop looking at megachurches and their pastors as role models. They can learn from them, but they must not copy them. In a world that devalues the small, listening to God in prayer and stepping out in obedience are much more important than the latest magic bullet that often misfires in smaller churches.
That attitudinal change can and does happen through intentional prayer for renewal. As we looked a little deeper at survey results, it was interesting to note that the comeback leaders of smaller churches highlighted the need for prayer even more than those at larger churches. When asked, “To what degree did the following [areas] change during your church’s comeback?” leaders of the churches under 200 rated prayer as the area most changed.
Smaller comeback churches are often praying churches. Leaders of smaller churches believed even more strongly that real, intentional, strategic prayer made a significant difference in their revitalization process. God can change attitudes in your church through passionate, persistent prayer for renewal.
An Outward Focus
Small churches are not exempt from the call to reach people because they are small. Too many churches of all sizes spend too much time moaning about what they don’t have that other churches do have or about what they can’t do that other churches are doing. No, you may not be able to do everything that other churches are doing. But that doesn’t mean your church can’t do something of purpose.
If smaller churches are going to thrive, they must focus their attention on reaching the lost in their communities. Again, delving deeper into our survey results reveals another important point. When asked the same question above, the leaders of churches under 200 rated evangelism as the second area that changed the most during the comeback.
Where From Here?
Prayer and outreach are not exactly revolutionary ideas, but they do change our focus. When small-church leaders have set their hearts on being like the large church, often the results are not positive. However, when they set their attention on God through prayer and on their community through outreach, the right focus produces small churches on God’s mission in their context. And that’s worth celebrating.
As you seek revitalization in your smaller church, check out my web-based seminar: Breaking the 200 Barrier. In it I discuss evangelism, prayer, leadership, building systems, follow-up, and a lot more.