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Aug
22

The Strategically Small Church

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It’s about time! That was my first reaction to picking up The Strategically Small Church. Written by small church pastor and Leadership Journal editor Brandon O’Brien, this book was a breath of fresh air in an era that is replete with “how to” books written by big guys about their big places. O’Brien vicariously pushes back against the conventional wisdom of the church growth movement and shares a very encouraging word to those who faithfully plod along.

O’Brien introduces his monograph with some helpful explanation behind the book’s title. A strategically small church isn’t necessarily an intentionally small church, but rather a church that is comfortable in its smallness because it has recognized some of the unique advantages that smallness offers to both congregation and community. Utilizing the strengths of its size, the small church can leverage what it brings to the table and make a significant impact. O’Brien quotes Chuck Warnock, who has said that “small churches are in desperate need of brand revival.” This was an important insight, because the number one problem of the small church is not its size but its perception. Being small is not the problem, according to the author. The problem lies in the insecurity and defensiveness that rises out of the failure to meet the expectations of their selves and others.

According to research in the book, 94% of churches in America are less than 500 in attendance, 177,000 of which are less than 100 in weekly attendance. Just over 5% of churches statistically average between 500 and 2,000, with one half of one percent exceeding 2,000 in weekly attendance. O’Brien suggests that there is a real problem if the 94% of small churches try to mimic the one half of one percent who are over 2,000 each week instead of working within their strengths and giftedness to meet the needs of their communities. The author suggests that small churches should recalibrate the metrics of success. He believes that bigger churches appear more successful because the possess statistics in areas that we already know how to measure. It is easy to put a statistic on church growth, but how does one measure kingdom growth?

The core of the book describes four strengths that small churches need to assess as such and build upon. The first strength that the small church inherently possesses is authenticity. Due to their size, small churches more naturally offer possibilities for personalized and intimate relationships. Small churches are somewhat more transparent, making hypocrisy more difficult to mask. O’Brien encourages the small church to simply stay authentic and to resist the temptation to be something they are not. By avoiding trendiness and business models the small church can maintain a high level of authenticity.

The second strength the writer points out is that small churches are lean. Instead of trying to “become all things to all people,” the small church should seek to do the things that no one else is doing and find a particular niche that the entire church can rally around. Programs should be developed solely on community need and giftedness within the body to exercise those programs. If a small church has members that have a particular interest that the church is incapable of developing, the author recommends that those particular members adopt a kingdom mindset and go serve that particular need through the auspices of a neighboring church.

Strength number three is for the small church to equip its members to serve as the missional presence of Christ through their jobs and neighborhoods. He cites statistics that reveal that people have significantly less discretionary time and income than their grandparents who devoted endless hours and dollars to their churches. Because of this socio-economic trend, O’Brien believes churches can be more effective by training their memberships to serve as they are and where they are rather than developing programs that depend on the church building to serve as the epicenter of ministry. Small churches need to shift their value system from attracting to sending and recognize the importance of making Kingdom contributions.

Finally, small churches should recognize the intergenerational advantages it possesses and use the older generations to mentor the young. This chapter offers the suggestion that small churches not feel pressured to age grade every ministry, but to let the natural blending of both young and old foster a family environment.

In conclusion, O’Brien confesses that the problem of the small church is that the very thing it’s attempting to achieve is the very thing that is undermining the very opportunity it’s been afforded. By exercising the natural strengths due to its size, the small church can, as it always has, continue to make an impact people’s lives and communities.

The Strategically Small Church is an excellent read for anyone in a church under 300. If you are a member of such a church, you’ll benefit deeply by this thoughtful and well written book. I would recommend that you purchase a copy, and after you’ve read it, share it with a friend or your pastor who is a part of a small church. It may be the most encouraging gift you give this year.

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