Can small churches be strategically small?

Is your church too big?  Maybe think about downsizing.

What?!  Why would you want to get smaller when churches are thinking of ways of how to grow?  Author Brandon J. O’Brien in his new book, The Strategically Small Church (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2010) thinks that small churches have advantages that large churches do not have.  They are more intimate, nimble, more conducive to being authentic, and more effective.

O’Brien likes the idea of being lean and nimble and this is one natural trait of a small church.  Small churches do not think like large churches, which is a natural advantage because when churches become large, people have a tendency to take on a consumer mentality and think of the church as a service provider.  I totally agree because I have also felt this way when I was church-hopping larger churches as a younger person.

Being “authentic” is important for this post-modern youth generation who are trapped in a throw-away, temporary, and materialistic world.  The author says: “Many young worshipers are turned off by over-produced worship music and a speaker who is too polished” (66).  I agree; but why do many large successful churches have polished worship music and speakers? I guess that’s why may be large and filled with people, but some might also be lacking young people in their teens and 20s. There is a falling away of the young generation in many churches. There’s nothing wrong with large churches, as long as “its authenticity shines through its professionalism.”  Along these same lines, O’Brien advises readers to not confuse relevance with trendiness.  “True relevance is being sensitive to the culture or subculture” in which we do our incarnational ministry in our specific location.

I especially like this wisdom on recognizing the benefits of small congregations:
“When a pastor fails to recognize the benefits of the small congregation and insists on running it like a large ministry, he will ultimately undermine and obscure the church’s strengths. Rather than creating a mega ministry, a think-big strategy can destroy the church’s spirit” (73).  He says to “Just be yourself.”  Furthermore, being authentic is not a strategy because once it becomes a strategy, one becomes inauthentic.

The two congregations where I minister are small and so I have personally found this book very helpful and encouraging for me in my own context.  I am sure other pastors of small congregations who might feel limited by small congregations will also be encouraged by his positive outlook on small churches. The author, Brandon J. O’Brien, is editor-at-large of Leadership Journal and is a contributor to the Out of Ur blog.  I’m sure he has gained much insight from the challenges faced by the various pastors who have articles submitted for the Leadership Journal (e.g., Alan Hirsch, Dave Gibbons, Willow Creek). However, O’Brien is not just an editor, but many of his points are qualified because they are insights he has gained from his experience as a pastor.  This is a good book for you if you minister in a small church, or also in a big church, but want to do ministry like a small church.

And thanks to the fine folks at Bethany House for sending me this book to review.  Book available at:  Amazon and CBD.

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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

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