Serving as a leader in a small church can be an exciting prospect if we seek to communicate and celebrate the joys and benefits of a tight-knit community of believers.
In a society where numbers are valued, mega-churches appear to be successful merely because of their size. However, vibrant disciple-making churches can be any size. For all the focus on mega-churches, according to Barna Group, nearly half of all American churchgoers attend churches smaller than 100 people and only eight percent actually attend mega-churches.
The challenge for leaders of small churches, however, is to identify and communicate a compelling narrative of a vibrant church. Small churches are often hindered from being their best because they focus too much on growth rather than celebrating what is unique about their community of believers.
The narrative leaders share and encourage shapes right thinking about what a healthy church looks like. When this vision is properly communicated and implemented, a vibrant small church can:
- Be successful in evangelism and discipleship
- Nurture people and families in community
- Draw people into fellowship who need a family to love them
- Engage in powerful prayer ministry
- Help the downtrodden
- Engage the world through missions
- Have enthusiastic and committed volunteers, instead of professionals, leading ministries
Changing the mindset of a small church is possible, but it requires leaders to communicate the vision. Inspiring a church toward vibrancy must be based in truth rather than church-growth gimmicks.
Four Steps to Change Your Church’s Narrative
1) Speak the truth. Church leaders should focus their narrative on the words of Jesus “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The truth is that Jesus is building His church and that includes small churches. Contentment with the size of church Jesus has given us is vital.
Small churches need to hear from their leaders that they have a special place in God’s Kingdom and that it is Jesus’ task to build His church. Communicating this truth frees people from the tyranny of numbers and allows people to focus on loving God (Matthew 22:37), loving neighbors (Matthew 22:39) and making disciples (Matthew 28:19).
2) Highlight what makes the church distinctive. Leadership author Stephen Denning encouraged organizations to simply be really good at what they do. Leaders can help their congregations identify and experience what is great about a small church and their church in particular.
3) Celebrate smallness. In small churches, nearly every gathering is a “small-group” ministry. Whereas large churches have to create intimacy through small groups, in small churches leaders just need to reframe the mindset to recognize and celebrate the individualized discipleship that is possible.
4) Embrace membership changes. In small churches, people will come and go, but leaders must create a positive narrative about changes. A vibrant small church will attract new people as they keep focused on loving God and neighbor and making disciples.
Changing the atmosphere of a small church through leadership vision and effective communication is worthwhile. Relief is found in embracing smallness and seeking to be the best church possible. Finding intrinsic value in seeking Jesus as a community of believers, regardless of size, is a compelling narrative to embrace.
When leaders focus on growing and developing people, rather than numbers, people will be eager to serve when they understand the importance of their contribution to the cause. As believers are discipled, they will also learn how to live “self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (Titus 2:12) and contribute to the church’s health.
Vibrant churches not only flourish inside their buildings, but they also have a positive impact on the broader community. Church growth is a by-product when a church reaches beyond its walls.
Leaders facilitating these changes through a positive narrative need to promote unity to avoid harming people in the process. Fostering unity, without manipulation, is a sign of effective leadership communication.
The journey to vibrancy as a small church is based on the truth that Jesus is building His church. Through effective communication, leaders create positive truth-based narratives that enable people to celebrate their community of faith.