“If only”… we repeat this phrase many times in our life for many situations. If only we had a little more money, we wouldn’t be struggling so much every month. If only we had a little bigger house, we wouldn’t be so cramped. If only I had a better education, I could get that job. If only…. It is a statement of lack, of not having enough to do all that we would like to do or be all that we would like to be.
Sitting in the small church, this little two word phrase comes to mind often. If only, we had more people, money, land, resources, help, ideas, programs, children, younger couples, faithful givers…
That’s the one thing about small churches they are… small. There are a small number of people to do the work. A small budget to keep the lights on and do ministry. There is usually a small amount of property to work with. There is a small staff. So, how does all this smallness make a big impact? How can the small church achieve without big staffs, big money, big buildings or a big number of people?
There are thousands of small churches, for every large church or mega church, there are multiple more thousands of churches that run a hundred or less in worship. The army of small churches is large. The resources that God currently has invested in these churches is enough to expand the Kingdom of God at an amazing rate. Think of it this way for a moment- if revival were to break out in the smaller churches, the Kingdom of God would grow faster and reach farther than if it did in the larger churches. Why? There are more smaller churches. There are more people attending smaller churches. There are more locations of smaller churches (in fact smaller churches reach communities and areas where no larger churches exist). It is simple math- the potential of the small church is great! Here it comes though… “if only” they could/would make that kind of impact.
Below are a few key principles to make the most of what you have in the smaller church. If you are a leader, teacher or worker in a smaller church, you can and should believe that God intends to use the resources He has put into your church for great Kingdom impact. In my previous article, “The Little Church that Could”, we made the case for everyone to believe that the smaller church can be a key part of Kingdom growth.
So, let’s stop dismissing the role of your church, no matter how big or small it may be. Let’s get past the “if only” and work with what God has invested in us. Let’s stop thinking that we have to have more before we can be a useful part of the Kingdom of God… and let’s get to work with what we have at hand and have high achievement in the smaller church.
1) Work to your strengths and on your weaknesses
Several years ago I was sitting in a breakout session at an evangelism conference when the presenter made this analogy that I will paraphrase
“The church is like a physical body, if you want the body to excel you have to shore up its’ weaknesses and take care of its’ deficiencies. You can’t excel if you are sick, you have to spend the money to get well. You can’t excel if you are malnourished, you have to go get some food.”
Now at some levels I would agree with him, but for the small church it begs the questions: where do we get the money to buy the medicine? What person will drive us to the doctor? Who is going to pay for the food? The church, any church, great or little, mega or small, has weaknesses. There is not a church around who does not look at themselves and see areas that need to be shored up, worked on or changed.
Now in the larger church, this analogy is easy to put into practice. What we lack, we buy, we bring in a specialist, we create a new ministry. In the smaller church we run into a whole set of problems trying to do this.
This is, I believe, one of the mistakes we make in leading a small church- putting all our time and resources into trying to fix our problems or filling in all of our holes. When you lead a smaller church, with limited resources, use those resources to work to your strengths, don’t exhaust people’s time and energy trying to fix all that is wrong. In other words, make the most out of what you have. Do the most good with the resources God has placed in your hand. Spending all of your time, resources, energy and effort to try to fix every problem ends up accomplishing little and becomes a vicious cycle because your weaknesses and problems will never end. Work to your strengths and on your weaknesses.
Take a look at the passage below:
I Corinthians 12 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be.
Right now God has strategically placed people within your body to accomplish His purpose for your church- to fulfill the Great Commission, to be Christ in your community, to minister to the ‘least of these’. You may think that you are riddled with too many weaknesses to be effective, yet if you believe that Scripture above, God has placed the people you need in your body already. The problem may be that you are looking at the resources at hand to try to do a task that you are currently not called to do or worse, you look at the limited resources at hand and fail to try to do anything with them.
Practically what does this mean? If you have 50 people in your congregation- you may not be called to do a big event that requires 200 people to run. But if you look at your 50 people and find their strengths, there is a lot you can do with 50 people and the power of the Holy Spirit. Here is where you have to stop looking to copy what someone else is doing and look at your 50 people as 50 of God’s servants He has placed here to do ministry.
Now as you look at your congregation, what are these folks good at? What is it that they do well? Maybe your church is really good at building relationships, welcoming new people but not good at confrontational evangelism. Then you need to leverage that strength by putting people in fellowship opportunities. So instead of doing a door-to-door campaign, your going to invite the neighborhood to a cookout or children’s party or a free car wash, where your folks can mingle with the community and serve them. Maybe the men in your church do not attend the men’s breakfast Bible study, but they are very handy. So instead of trying to force them to attend, contact the local council on aging and find some seniors who need handyman projects done and minister to your community.
Anyone can nitpick a congregation apart, but if you are going to lead this group in the small church, find their strengths, find their sweet spot, and use it to your advantage to build the Kingdom. It is why God has them in your church at this time.
2) Be strategic in your organization
This second point follows the first one very closely. Organize your church for ministry, not maintenance. Many smaller congregations have their time and resources drained by poor organization. They are overloaded with committee work and often the same people are on two or three different committees. If we are serious about making the smaller church effective at achieving Kingdom growth, then we have to free up our limited resources for ministry…. and what is the number one resource today- time.
Belt-tightening is often thought of when it comes to working with limited financial resources, but we don’t seem to be as good at tightening up our time resources. With fewer people to work with, fewer servants on hand, prioritize their time to accomplish Kingdom work first. So often the smaller church fills “key” positions first- finance committee, deacons, property committee, ushers… yet when it comes to leadership for Kingdom growth, these positions go unfilled. We seem to place a higher degree of importance on maintenance, placing people in areas of service that keep our church going, when we need to free up people’s time for participating in outreach, ministry, compassion and service to the community.
I have talked to many pastors, and have experienced it myself often, who struggle to engage people in ministry. Yet the very people we are looking for to participate in ministry are already on the property committee, taking their turn in the nursery, working in the kitchen… and then we wonder why they don’t come out on a Saturday to work at our children’s outreach event. As leaders, you have to be aware of helping your workers to prioritize their time. You cannot escape the fact that we, by the committees and teams we ask people to work on, tell them what is important. You cannot say Kingdom growth is important to us, when you have filled your workers time with maintenance work.
It is a bold step to change the organizational structure of a church, but if we are serious about achieving impact in the smaller church, the resources we have must be prioritized for the most important things… and keeping the church painted, the carpet cleaned, controlling the budget and a personnel handbook are not the priorities of the church. Would you like to stand before God as a leader and tell Him, “Look, we kept the books tight, the flowers watered, the hymnbooks in the racks, the kitchen stocked, enforced our by-laws….”. Do we really believe that God would say, “well done good and faithful servant”? We have to organize to bear the fruit of the Kingdom- making disciples of all nations- and use the resources He has placed in our hands for His purposes.
3) Don’t be afraid to invest what you have
Here is one thought that will free up your view of money in the small church. Stop referring to your budget as what you have “spent”, rather look at your budget as what you are going to invest in the Kingdom of God. Investment implies one thing- return. When I spend, I think of money leaving my account, never to come back. When I invest, I am looking to build on what I have.
In the smaller church where every dollar has to do the work of two dollars, spending is expensive, even small amounts of money can be seen as an issue. But if we look at our resources and see everything we do as investing, then it is not an expense, but growth. For example, your utility bill can be expensive, or we can look at it as an investment to have lights on so people can see their Bible as we study or have the heat on so people will feel comfortable attending. You can look at your literature order as expensive or as an investment in discipling your congregation. That money you need for your outreach project, can be expensive or an investment in seeing people come to know Christ as their Savior.
Whatever amount of money you have, don’t be afraid, with the leadership of the Holy Spirit, to invest it in the Kingdom of God. We can foolishly spend, but investment in the Kingdom of God always provides returns. Listen to what Jesus says to Peter:
Luke 18 28 Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” 29 ”I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, ”no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come,eternal life.”
If we are stingy with our resources, believing that if we hold on to them we are better stewards, then we are spiritually mistaken. In a worldly sense, you may be right to be tight on spending and keeping what you can in reserve. But in the Kingdom of God, those who sow little into the ground reap little in return…another way of saying that if we don’t invest our resources in the Kingdom of God, we will be ineffective, and achieve little for the Kingdom of God.
2 Corinthians 9 6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
Galatians 6 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Be creative when resources are slim, but do not use a lack of resources for an excuse not to do ministry. With the internet and advances in technology there are a ton of resources that are free or relatively inexpensive that you can use for outreach and ministry.
www.mailchimp.com is a resource you can use for an email campaign to visitors or people in the community, creating html emails that look professional… for free.
www.vistaprint.com you can order business cards, many times for free, to distribute in the community, postcards that you can mail or any number of things, all relatively cheap
www.vflyer.com is a resource I have used to develop great looking flyers that can be emailed or printed for free.
What about staff and people? Every smaller church would love some more staff help. Did you know that just about every seminary, Bible College or Christian College has students that are looking for experience? Most of these students that are looking to go into ministry would love to have an opportunity to lead ministry and have something to put on their resume. Internships, and small part-time positions are appealing for these up and coming leaders. Your church an be a part of investing in the future of the Kingdom of God by hiring one of these students as an intern, paying a small stipend and giving them a title to put on their resume for the next position. You get an energetic and willing leader, they get experience to help grow the Kingdom into the next generation.
Just because there may be fewer resources in the smaller church, does not mean there cannot be a great supernatural impact for the Kingdom of God. Being small is not an excuse nor is it a reason the church is not making progress in growing the Kingdom. Be wise, and be good stewards of the resources God has placed in the body so that you can achieve what God has designed for you to do.