I am going to do a series of posts this week about being a smaller Church (under 200-300 people) in a small town.
First, you need to know a little about me. I grew up in a town of 500. We attended the local Church in that town until I was 5 and then we went to a nearby town of 15,000 for Church with a congregation of 200. On top of that, I have been a preacher/pastor since 1993 and every Church I have served has been under 300 people. In fact, the largest Church I have served averaged 278 in a community of 60,000 – but my average Church is 125 in a town of less than 10,000 and usually less than 3,000 people. You need to know that I write this material not as a large church pastor looking down on small churches in small towns but rather as a person who is living this reality every day of my life.
Second, you need to know that I feel God has called me to this community of people. Personally I have felt God calling back again and again to a small church in small town. His calling on my life has not just been to be a pastor but to help lead some of these congregations through difficult times and into new levels of growth. God has allowed me to lead 4 congregations to new growth levels in my time as their minister and I have truly been blessed on this journey.
With all that said, I have come to learn a few things about smaller churches in small towns that are worth exploring. Many of these concepts have a very big upside, but they also can have a big downside. I want to explore that in the coming week (or more).
The first issue that I would like to write about is the role of the Pastor. Being a pastor in a smaller congregation is completely different from being the pastor of a larger congregation.
1. Smaller Churches have only one staff member usually. Occasionally there is some part-time staff, but even those are students in a local college or just Church members with no formal training. This means that pastor is called upon to do more than one job. A small Church pastor is often called upon to be youth minister, children’s director, worship leader (at least planner), counselor, administrator and any other duties that needs filled. The upside is that the preacher can connect to everyone in the Church on a very personal level. We can serve side by side in almost any area. The downside is that some pastors are not good at other areas. Take me for example, one congregation had me leading singing. I can’t carry a tune, but the position needed filled so I did it. God bless those poor people.
2. Smaller Churches are dependent on volunteers. Since the preacher can’t do everything he needs reliable people to serve along with him. The preacher in a smaller Church is often pleading for more and better volunteers. The hard reality is that in a smaller Church the number to draw upon is very small. Many simply don’t want to volunteer, many don’t feel qualified, many are burnt out after years of service and many just serve because of necessity while waiting to quit. There is a great upside to this truth though. Everyone in the Church is needed and everyone has a chance to use their gifts and abilities. Ask me how you can help and I can give you a page of ideas. The number of volunteers in a small Church is usually well over 50% of those attending. The downside is that a smaller Church cannot offer the ministries a larger Church can offer. I often have to tell people I am sorry we do not have a ministry for 3rd graders who are left-handed and struggle with the onset of early stress related disorders 🙂 We struggle to have youth group and children’s ministry let alone specialized areas of ministry. I do not have volunteers and I do not have the time. It doesn’t mean that I, the Church leaders and the Church do not care – it just means we don’t have the manpower.
I tell you all of this because I listen to lectures on Church growth. I read articles about how to grow a Church. I attend conferences on how to reach the lost. And most of them leave me very empty because my Church is not like the larger Church and it is not like the Church in a bigger town. Being a Pastor/Preacher of a smaller Church in a small town is different from being anywhere else. In order for the Church to reach people with the gospel it requires everyone in the congregation working together as a team with all of their gifts and abilities. When a Church can grasp that concept, it finally starts on a road toward growth.