Laying the groundwork: Small churches can be healthy, viable, and effective

In a recent conversation about the looming shortage of small/solo church pastors which I mentioned in my last post (“There is a crisis looming”), I was challenged by a friend to realize that, if we are going to recruit men and women willing and prepared to lead small churches, we must first convince them that small churches are actually worth leading. Continue reading ‘Laying the groundwork: Small churches can be healthy, viable, and effective’


There is a crisis looming

I remember the first day of Dr. Larry Hughes’ class, Introduction to Ministry, very well. Barely a week after I had arrived as a baby-faced freshman at what was then Bartlesville Wesleyan College, the class convened in a small room which was home to several musical instruments which had been stored there for years by the music department which generally met next door; a number of old bookshelves filled with the school’s entire music library; and a massive table, dark stained, and rather ornate in design. Probably twenty feet in length, six in width, the table dominated the small room, leaving really nothing more than a narrow walkway around the perimeter such that, if you found yourself seated at the far end, you had better pray you didn’t need a restroom break before the conclusion of the class. Continue reading ‘There is a crisis looming’

Warning: Your Bible version may be obsolete

Over on my personal blog, I posted today about a decision which has taken months to foment, research, and finalize: the decision to transition to a different Bible translation for my primary preaching and teaching text. You can check out the post here: Really, though, the bulk of the discussion boils down to the fact that Zondervan is retiring the 1984 revision of the New International Version (NIV1984) which thousands of churches and millions of believers – including our church and me – have used for thirty years and replacing it with a updated version (NIV2011). Zondervan has announced that they will no longer be printing the NIV1984 or the various resources (e.g., study Bibles) which utilize it and that any future editions of those products will be updated to the NIV2011 in the coming months and years.

Zondervan’s announcement was shocking to me because it meant that, all of a sudden, the translation I had relied on for better than half of my life was obsolete.

Now, it is not my intent to open a debate on the merits of the NIV2011. Please understand that. But I wonder how many other pastors and churches are also in the same situation. Maybe not because the Bible translation they rely on has been discontinued, but because their methods and style for communicating the unchanging message of Scripture has been outmoded and ineffective, quite possibly for some time.

As the pastor of a small church, I am keenly aware that we are very susceptible to such a situation. For example, in the 1950’s, our church was on the forefront of the bus ministry movement. As one of the larger churches in town at the time, the congregation purchased two large buses and saw many people brought to the Lord over the course of 25 years. Yes, we ran our bus ministry that long. But eventually, rising costs of maintenance and fuel, coupled with a couple of church splits and declining use of the buses, compelled the congregation to sell the things. Years after the bus ministry heyday had passed.

Why did we hang onto those buses so long after they had grown largely ineffective? And why, some 25 years after that, was at least one faithful saint in the congregation so insistent that the key to growing our church was restarting the bus ministry?

The answer is that we, especially in smaller, older churches, have a very real tendency to look back on the heyday of the past and think that, if we can just resurrect the methods and models – and even the language – we were using back then, God will bless again.

The only problem is, in more cases than not, it’s not true.

Granted, there are occasions when we must have a Revelation 2:5 – “Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” – moment, but I think that, more often than not, what we really need are modern men (and women) of Issachar, who understand the times and know what the church should do (1 Chronicles 12:32), and ministers like Paul, resolved to become all things to all people, so that they may by every possible means save some (1 Corinthians 9:22).

So, here’s the challenge for today. Consider everything that you and your church are doing to minister. Never change the good news of Jesus Christ itself, but find a new and fresh way to present it to the world in which we live. Don’t let the Bible which you present – which may be the only Bible some ever see or hear – be obsolete!


Intergenerational Ministry

I enjoy watching The Techology Show, a video podcast by a number of Wesleyan pastors which covers a fun mix of technology and church-related stuff. Today, the guest speaker was Matthew Deprez of Frontline Community Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the conversation was about integrating all generations into a singular, more effective congregation. It was an interesting discussion, especially considering the stir caused by a new film criticizing modern youth ministry as a failed experiment in segregating the generations (read about it here).

I would be lying if I said that our church is effective at reaching young people in particular, but this conversation gave me hope for a couple of reasons. First, probably most important, Deprez and Frontline, an undeniably large church, were finding increased effectiveness at building long-term faith in teens in particular by including them in the rest of the church rather than constantly separating them out into specifically targeted ministries. Our small church has done this, more out of necessity and by default than design, and I know of a lot of small churches that are in the same boat.

Second, it provided a little more substance to the argument that youth ministry can’t be something done by just a particular person or team in the church. It is everyone’s responsibility to build connections to other generations because, regardless of what generation we’re in, we need the others. Each generation has something that it can teach the others, and we need them all.

And third, it provided more evidence for a ministry philosophy that I’ve had for a long time: the church can be – and should be – a cross-section of all generations.

All of this is really neat because, as I noted above, in many small churches, it’s something that just happens. We don’t have enough Sunday School rooms for separate youth classes, so we all meet in one place. We don’t have enough volunteers for a dedicated youth service. We don’t have enough youth to go on a youth-only missions trip. So we have to do things intergenerationally. We’ve always had to do things intergenerationally.

And while that’s not to say that small churches are automatically good at it, let alone deliberate about it, it is to say that it feels good to have our method of necessity validated by the discovery of some big churches.

So be encouraged! You can be effective, even if you don’t have a dedicated youth-whatever. You’re not behind the curve; you’re actually ahead of it!

The quest for leadership development materials

Small church pastors have heard it time and again. Every conference we attend, every denominational meeting we join, every book we read, and every fiber in our being tell us that, for our churches to be effective, we must have effective leaders. And since effective leaders don’t simply grow on trees, the only way to have effective leaders is to develop them. We all understand and acknowledge that. But we also understand that there are some serious obstacles to developing leaders, especially in the small church. Continue reading ‘The quest for leadership development materials’

Great article on the advantages of a small church

All through college, I had this crazy idea that I would be the savior of the church. Wherever I ended up ministering, I just knew that, as soon as I arrived there, the congregation would experience a second Pentecost. Thousands would be saved. The church would experience explosive growth. And everyone would look at me and say, “Wow. Look at what he’s done for his church.”

I look back on those days and laugh at my arrogance, naiveté, short-sightedness, and closed-mindedness.

You see, I’ve discovered that small churches are not bad churches. In fact, as I have noted on several occasions in this blog, I believe that small churches truly have a number of significant advantages over their larger counterparts, and it all boils down to the this notion that I have that, per capita, small churches are more effective.

This morning, I ran across an article in the newsletter that I believe clearly explains five reasons why this is true, and I wanted to share it with you. Check it out at

What are you obsessed with?

This morning, I read an interesting article with the appropriate title “Great Entrepreneurs Are Obsessed With The Product” by Brad Feld. For those who have never heard of Feld, he is co-founder and managing director at Foundry Group, a Boulder, Colorado-based venture capital firm that invests in cutting-edge software and internet companies. Feld’s list of investments reads like a list of who’s who of startup internet companies which, although most of their names have since faded into the mists of time, built the foundational blocks of some of the online services which technophiles take for granted today. Continue reading ‘What are you obsessed with?’