Getting Rid of the Small-Church Mentality

by Sandi Brown

Do you ever feel you are paddling upstream without an oar? Do you feel you are lost in the middle of a desert without an oasis in sight? If you are in the ministry, you can probably relate to feeling helpless, ineffective, and burned out at least some point in ministry.

As pastors of a small church, my husband, Kirk, and I have encountered struggles of many kinds. After nearly 5 years as youth pastors, we followed God’s leading to pastor a small church in Indiana. The history of this church made us feel a little apprehensive. This once strong church of over 200 people had dwindled to just three people. Yet, as we pulled into the parking lot, we saw potential.

You may call us naïve … and I would agree. Our first years of pastoring were definitely a struggle. Six people attended our first service. In addition, we started off with a huge financial burden. The church had over $5,000 in debt and only $124 in the bank. We also lacked workers to accomplish the task we felt God calling us to do. At times we felt completely crazy for taking on this huge task. We were first-time lead pastors in charge of rebuilding a church that had a bad reputation in the community. We made our mistakes and we learned from every experience we encountered.

Our church attendance climbed to 10 … then 20 … then 40 … then almost 60. Over the past 7 years, those numbers have been like a yo-yo. At some points we have decreased, and at other times the numbers increased. The bottom line is that we learned people who embrace a small-church mentality are not always willing to stick with the process of rebuilding a church.

So what is a “small-church mentality”? A small-church mentality is the mindset that we are limited to what we can do for God because we are small. It is the belief that small churches can only do small things for God. This mentality is one of the most destructive things a small, growing church can encounter. Embracing this attitude will certainly stunt the growth of a church.

Recognizing whether or not you have succumbed to this mentality is the most important key in the process of growing your church out of this vicious cycle. A small-church mentality is evident when you or the people in your church begin to believe that the lack of people, finances, or ministries limits the effectiveness you have for the kingdom of God. We have even found that visitors were repelled when they sensed our church or people in the church held onto this belief. Who wants to stay at a church that doesn’t believe it can do much for God?

Lack of People

The first danger in this mentality is believing that your church cannot do much because of the people you have or don’t have. As leaders, we are the example to our congregation. If you believe your church is limited, then the people in your church will also embrace this belief. Even if your church has just a handful of members, God can still work through those few people.

One key is to find places for the people you do have. God has placed certain people in your churches, so you need to use what He has given you. Find out more about the people in your church. What are they interested in doing? What are they good at? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Once you find out this information, you can begin to find the appropriate roles that will suit their interests.

Another key is to not overwork the few people you do have. Yes, this might restrict you to how much you can do. Problems come when we overwork those who are faithful. Do not expect your few people to be the fully functioning body that a large church is. Instead, find the purpose for your church. God put you where you are for a reason, so He obviously has a purpose to achieve through the people you do have.

Lack of Finances

The second danger in a small-church mentality is the belief that the small church cannot be effective because of a lack of finances. As leaders, our attitude about this will become the attitude church members have.

Obviously, small churches will have limited finances and resources. However, this does not mean we cannot grow a strong ministry. Ministry does not need to cost a lot of money. Ministry is simply sharing the love of Jesus with others.

Pray about what types of things your church can do. What type of ministries does God want your church to do? In what types of things should you invest your finances? What things can you do that do not cost a lot of money?

To be effective for God, we do not have to copy things other churches do. Some churches may spend a large amount of money on a food pantry … some may pass out flyers to the entire community … others may host a cookout for the town. These things may cost a great deal of money and will not be possible if you lack the finances. God has a specific plan for each church. What works in one church may not work in another. Pray about the specific purpose God has for the ministry your church will have in your community.

Lack of Ministries

The third danger in a small-church mentality is the belief that your church is not meaningful if you lack an abundance of ministries. It is easy to look at the success of larger churches and the ministries available to families who attend there.

Recently while on vacation our family attended a large church that had endless opportunities for its members. It amazed us when we saw the modern-looking building full of technology. It drew us in. It was easy to see why people would want to attend this church. They had a fully functioning nursery, complete with buzzers parents kept with them during service. They had prayer teams ready to pray with anyone. They had an awesome worship team that led the congregation into passionate worship.

The key for smaller churches is to realize they are not a big church. With the lack of manpower and finances, a small church cannot mimic the experiences people encounter in a big church. And truthfully, I do not believe God wants us to mimic other churches. I believe we are to find the purpose for our church.

If you pastor or lead a small church, pray about what your church is good at and focus on that. The people in your church have certain abilities, strengths, and passions that you can use to grow ministries specific to God’s calling on your church. Once you grow ministries that focus on your church’s strengths, this will naturally increase the people and effectiveness of your church.

The danger comes when we try to do too much. Forcing more ministries than you have manpower or time for results in ineffective ministry. Our church used to have several services a week, with childcare at each service. This eventually burned out the workers who were continually ministering. They grew weary and ended up stopping. If you start with a few good ministries, you can always add ministries as your church grows.

The Leader is the Key

As pastor/leader, you are the key to whether you let small-church mentality rule your church. If you do not believe your church can be powerful, then your people will likely hold that same belief. The leader’s attitude transpires to the congregation. Find ways to get past the mentality that a small church hinders effectiveness for God. Remember, the most important component of your church is God … and with God, nothing is impossible. Believe for great things in your church.

Sandi Brown, is a writer and pastor’s wife at Refuge Assembly of God, Bloomfield, Indiana