My Five Rules for Pastoring a Small Church


Most of my ministry has been in small churches and I love them!  But I grew up in a church with over 500 in worship, so my first small church pastorate was almost a disaster.  Out of that experience, I quickly developed some rules for pastoring a small church:

Rule #1:  Realize a small church is not a miniature big church.  Remember “Mini-Me” in Austin Powers — an exact clone of the big guy, only smaller?  I learned quickly that small churches aren’t “MiniMes.”  Worship, decision-making, pastoral care, and just about everything else in a small church is different from large church ministry. 

Rule #2:  Assume all your members are related.  I discovered this rule one day after venting my frustration with one member to another.  His four word reply is still ringing in my head — “Yeah, she’s my cousin.” 

Rule #3.  Don’t underestimate your members.  Small church members can be just as gifted, committed, and excited as large-church members — sometimes more so.  Many people actually prefer a small church because they can find a place of service and get to know people more quickly.

Rule #4.  Don’t overestimate the pastor’s importance.  Lyle Schaller says small churches are member-driven.  Pastors may come-and-go, but members keep the church running.  Plug-in rather than charge-in is my approach now.

Rule #5.  Don’t be in a hurry to leave.  While pastoring my first small church, I couldn’t wait to move up to a larger congregation.  Looking back, I realize that those folks saw my restlessness, but loved me anyway.  I wished later that I had stayed longer.

Today I’m still pastoring a small church.  Small churches fit me, and hopefully, I fit them better now, too.                                               

4 thoughts on “My Five Rules for Pastoring a Small Church”

  1. Please read my profile before junping to any conclusions regarding the remarks that follow.

    I started with your essay reported on EthicsDaily.com which then led me to your rules for pastoring a small church and I was immediately reminded of the words f Jesus when He said – “…upon this rock I will build My church and the gates of Hades shall not overcome it.”
    What was that rock, many ask, and we need to understand that it was the truth of Peter’s “revelation” – that Christ was who said He was. He becomes the anchor on which we are to base our faith.

    So, please – I beg of you, don’t set up a bunch of rules that do little more than assuage our unbief.

    I first stepped into a pulpit as a new graduate of the UMC’s efforts to develop “lay” speakers and had every confidence I was about to thrill my audience with my newly minted theological theories.

    Alas, I was to discover a 3×5 card laying there, on which we inscribed these words, “Sir, we would see Jesus” and I almost dropped to the floor. “God help me” was the only prayer I could offer. Then, somehow, I looked out into those beautiful faces and opened my mouth. I will never know what came forth.

    But an old man hugged me as I was greeting others at the end of the service and whispered, “Best sermon I have heard in years.” I still marvel at that thought.

    …”you shall receive power when the Holy Spririt comes upon you and you shall by witnesses – whereever it is that you find yourself.”

    I believe that to be Rule #1 and there is no need for any more…..

  2. Sherwood did you read the “rules?” I’m pretty sure that he has used the term loosely and a little tongue-in-cheek. They are actually just pieces of advice. How could you not follow a piece of advice like, “don’t underestimate your members?” Would you instead have small church pastors thinking little of their members? Of course not. I personally found the “rules” helpful as a needed reminder and bits of good advice.

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