Recently, I heard someone say, “God does not call a church into existence for failure.” Too often, the mindset of smaller congregations is that they are not important and have little to offer to the Lord, district, or denomination. I disagree. Let me explain why.
• Thirty-nine percent of U.S. Nazarene Congregations have 50 or fewer participants on an average Sunday morning, quite similar to other Protestant denominations.
• The shortage of Nazarene pastors is greatest in the churches with fewer than 50 participants. Thirty-four percent of recent ordinands report no formal Nazarene preparation for ministry.
• Thirty-one percent of all Nazarene pastors have a salary, benefits, housing allowance, and parsonage rental value from the church that total an amount lower than the poverty level. Between 1/4 and 1/3 of Nazarene pastors indicate they are bi-vocational.
It is time to affirm the small churches, their pastors, and their laity.
Additional Thoughts to Ponder
There is legitimacy for small congregations. The feeling I perceive from some pastors and laity is that their service in a smaller church is insignificant, inferior, and not quite legitimate. This inferior complex must end! There is nothing wrong with these churches if they are legitimately worshiping, working, and ministering in the name of Jesus to their local communities. Someone once asserted that the smaller church is not an organizational error to be corrected but an intentional choice of members who put a priority on valuable relationships. It is time to affirm the small churches, their pastors, and their laity. They are filling valuable places of ministry in the kingdom business.
Churches are not in ministry in a vacuum. The exciting feature of a denomination is that we are not “Lone Ranger” congregations, but part of a universal church united in fulfilling the Great Commission. Ken Crow
There are a few, well-publicized churches that can do the work of mission on their own—but the rest of us accomplish more by working together.
writes, “There are a few, well-publicized churches that can do the work of mission on their own—world mission projects, college, camps, etc.—but the rest of us accomplish more by working together. Nazarene congregations are more than competing franchises loosely organized within a denomination. They are in many ways a network or community of faith committed to the mission of the church. Together they are more able to achieve their shared goals, including being a Christian people, spreading scriptural holiness, and accomplishing a great mission through worship ministry to the world in evangelism and compassion, encouraging believers towards Christian maturity through discipleship, and preparing women and men for Christian service through higher education.”2
Churches with limited numbers and a lack of resources should not diminish the need for quality. Pastor Rich Doering from Racine Community Church of the Nazarene shared a paraphrase of one of his favorite quotes which comes from the 1988 membership book, Welcome to the Church of the Nazarene: “We have a tendency to make our floors into our ceilings.”3 In other words, our natural tendency is to find the least we have to do to get by, and then we make that the most we will do. We must never settle for bare minimum; quality should be our number one priority in everything we do, because we are doing it for Jesus and people. Stan Toler, in his book The Five Star Church, states, “We need to strive for excellence and care about our church property, programming and publicity because God deserves our best. We, as the local church, are His local franchise within a community. We represent Him. The Bible says that all Christians are to act as ambassadors, as liaisons between God and others. When we do things that reflect a shabby mind-set, we are certainly not representing Him well, because God does things with excellence . . . When we offer mediocre music, have unfriendly ushers and ho-hum services, and then present ourselves as a reflection of God’s love and character, we insult Him.”4
Churches need to avoid the comparison game. If we go to district or general conferences and begin to play the “comparison game,” we often lose.
Churches need to avoid the comparison game. If we go to district or general conferences and begin to play the “comparison game,” we often lose. We look at what someone else is doing and think, “If only I was in a church that size, think what I could do.” Or, “Poor me, I’m in this small church that is going nowhere with no future! I’m stuck without hope or future. No one cares about me.” Discouragement becomes our bedfellow. God has a vision for each local congregation. Contextualize the location where God has placed you as pastor. What is God trying to do with your church, where you are, with the resources you have at your disposal—now? You can build on past success, work with the current circumstances, and look toward the future, but it must be done today, for today is all you have to work with.
Pastoral Leadership vitally affects the energy of a congregation. You, pastor, are the key to the success of the small church. With this in mind, consider the following:
1. Your attitude makes a marked difference in how your people view themselves and their church.
2. Your investment in their lives through visitation, care, compassion, discipleship making, and interest will strengthen them on the journey.
3. Your preaching will challenge them to live filled with the presence of God. Preaching should be a priority in your ministry. My concern for bi-vocational pastors is the amount of time they are able to spend developing quality sermons. Many of the clergy on my district work 20 to 40 hours a week in a secular job, in addition to their duties as pastor, duties which include visiting the sick, calling in the homes, administrative responsibilities, and, in many small churches, cutting the grass, repairing the building, snowblowing the sidewalks (a real challenge in the northern tier of states), cleaning the church building, and so on. So who has time to develop one or two sermons per week? How is it physically done? Here are some tips:
• Plan a sermon schedule in advance.
• Use the lectionary for planning.
• Form a “sermon club” with fellow pastors to discuss sermons and get their ideas.
• Use the internet for resourcing sermons.
• Carve out a specific time to write sermons.
• If possible, take a “Sermon Preparation” retreat and go away for one to three days to think through a plan for a quarter, six months, or a year.
Know your people. How can you minister to someone you don’t know?
4. Know your people. How can you minister to someone you don’t know? Get acquainted with them as persons. Also, get to know their gifts, talents, and abilities.
5. If you have limited worship resources, recruit people who can help you from outside the church. Talk with the band teacher at the local high school or middle school and find out who needs extra credit; ask to “borrow” a musician from another church for a Sunday; use the technology of worship videos.
You are the leader . . . LEAD!
Paraphrasing Paul’s instruction to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because your church is small, but set an example for the believers of every size congregation in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12, emphasis added).
DERL KEEFER currently serves as the district superintendent of the Wisconsin District.
1. Ken Crow, Recognizing, Equipping, and Sustaining the People of God is Calling to Pastor Smaller Churches. This paper, which was compiled from several sources in August 2003, can be found online here.
2. Cited in an email correspondence with the author, August 31, 2010.
3. Richard L. Parrott, Welcome to the Church of the Nazarene: An Introduction to Membership (Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House, 1988), 66.
4. Stan Toler, Alan Nelson, The Five Star Church (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1999), 21.