Does Saying ‘It’s Okay to Be Small’ Give Churches an Excuse to Settle for Less?

Every church should be actively participating in kingdom growth

“We need to always be about kingdom growth. To do that, we need healthy churches of all sizes – always getting stronger, healthier and contributing to the growth of the kingdom of God. But it’s hard for smaller churches and their pastors to feel like they’re making that contribution when they’re treated like failures if their church isn’t getting bigger, even though they’re participating in kingdom growth.”

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The idea that small churches can be great churches is a hard concept for a lot of people to swallow.

I get it. It was hard for me to swallow for a lot of years, too.

So when people raise questions about it, I appreciate their concerns and I try to engage with them in some constructive conversation.

One of those conversations took place a while back in an online forum, in response to my post, Two Lists: One for a Healthy Church, One for a Big Church – And They Don’t Overlap.

This post is an edited-for-publication version of my answers to that reader’s thoughtful and important questions.

Q: Are you concerned that by saying ‘it’s okay to be small’ you might be encouraging churches to settle for less?

A: A little. Which is why I’m constantly saying that settling for less is never part of God’s will for any church.

But I’m less concerned about that than I am about small churches feeling disenfranchised and devalued by a church growth culture that sends them the (usually unintentional) message that they have a lesser or non-existent role in the kingdom of God if they haven’t reached a certain size or aren’t growing at particular numerical pace.

Lazy churches and pastors are going to stay lazy, no matter what I write. Healthy, motivated pastors and churches won’t take ‘small can be valuable’ as an excuse to become lazy.

But there are a lot of very good small churches and small church pastors whose ministries have been sidelined by the expectation – sometimes even the demand – of unreached numerical growth.

We need to ease that burden, not make it heavier.

I appreciate pastors and ministries that give good advice to small churches about how to grow bigger. I’m always looking for new ideas on how to do that, myself.

But that advice needs to be given carefully. Hard-working pastors and churches should never be guilted or belittled when the church growth strategies that worked for one church don’t work for their church.

So, yes I’m a little concerned that what I say and write about the value of small churches might give a minuscule percentage of lazy churches and pastors an excuse to keep being lazy.

But I’m far more concerned about what is happening to the overwhelming majority of wonderful, prayerful, passionate and hard-working small churches and their pastors who are discouraged, demoralized and far less effective than they should be, because they haven’t heard that small churches can be great churches.

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