ChuckWarnock.com

Confessions of a Small Church Pastor

2007 is going to be a good year!


I read a blog recently that was pessimistic about the small church.  Let me rephrase that — the blogger said, “There is no hope for the small church.”  He cited the following reasons:

  • He had read Good to Great by Jim Collins, and had applied Collins’ business insights to the church, and small churches in particular.
  • He concluded that small churches didn’t have the kind of leadership Collins describes (Level 5 leaders), and that even if small churches could find Level 5 leaders, the “wrong people were on the bus.”  (Collins talks about getting the “wrong” people off the corporate bus, and getting the “right” people on the bus.)

I am not mentioning this blogger’s name or blog because I completely disagree with him, and I have some reasons of my own:

  • Haven’t we learned enough to know that the corporation is not the model for the church?  Isn’t the whole emerging church/future church thing about rejecting the corporate model for doing church? 
  • Leadership, even Level 5 leadership, is less important than lordship.  After all, the early Christians professed, “Jesus is Lord”  — not “Jesus is leader.”
  • As to having the wrong people on the bus — I completely agree.  Sometimes we as pastors feel we have the wrong people on the bus.  Sounds like Moses, doesn’t it?  “God, why did you stick me with these faithless, obstinate people who want to go back to Egypt?”  Ever said that, or something to that effect?   

Small churches, like big churches and like Israel, are composed of the people of God.  So, it’s not a matter of getting some off the bus and others on the bus, it’s a matter of God’s people acting like God’s people. 

Frankly, I think there is great hope for the small church, especially in 2007.  Here are 5 reasons I am optimistic about the small church in 2007:

  1. A new wind is blowing.  Not since the charismatic movement or the church renewal movement (and those happened in the 1970s and 80s) has there been so much interest in figuring out what the church, the real church, ought to be and do.  And small churches are at the forefront of this transition from traditional-to- emerging, or whatever it will finally turn out to be. 
  2. Small, boutique, niche, and specialized is in.  Churches, especially small churches, are now free to focus on a few (or one) missional practice.  I recently read a blog of a church that has a “relocation” pastor — if you don’t like the way they do things, they’ll help you find a church where you fit.  They are unapologetic for who they are and what they do.  Pretty amazing!
  3. Technology is doing for the small church what the web did for small businesses.  The internet leveled the playing field for small businesses.  Technology — video, podcasts, blogs, websites, IMs, text messaging, etc — is very affordable and gives the small church the same tools as the large church.  Which brings me to my next point….
  4. Small churches and large churches are not competitors.  They’re different and differentiation is the trend in our culture.  Small churches no longer have to offer mini-versions of large church programs. 
  5. Small churches are nimble.  Okay, I’m using some business-model jargon myself, but the truth is, small churches are nimble.   Small churches can make quick decisions, require less support financially, and are better at managing resources.  (I just made all that up, but I believe it’s true.)

In a word, I am optimistic about the church, and the small church especially, in 2007.  I hope you are, too.  Happy New Year!

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Categories: Community, Congregation, Journey, Missional life

13 replies

  1. Small Churches are a challenge, but no more so than the large church. They are different, but they will always be around. Keep up the good work!

  2. I think the large church often loses sight of the smaller churches challenges when it comes to resources. A small church will find a way to do them, you just have to be creative.

    As for Jim Collins’ book, Level 5 leadership is arguably one of the hardest things to obtain and it often takes years of learning and growing to achieve it. I would argue that large churches are often devoid of Level 5 leadership. Just because they are large they have a larger resource pool to draw from, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is better. Keep up the work and keep learning and growing, that is how we become better leaders.

  3. Dave, thanks for your comments. Even though I think the church ought to quit borrowing its models from the business world, I do like the qualities of Level 5 leaders — giving others credit, etc. Of the other church leader-types being talked about now, I like the poet, prophet, apostle, pastor grouping. Alan Roxburgh talks about these (as others have) in his book, The Sky is Falling. Thanks for checking in.

  4. Have you read “Breakout Churches” by Thom Ranier? It’s based upon Collins’ book–but reading it, I didn’t get the feeling that the small church is doomed.

    I am a small church minister. It’s got it’s challenges, and your post is right on. I have often been frustrated by the IBM corporate model for Jesus’ church.

    Thanks for doing what you do.

  5. Brandon, thanks for your comments and encouragement. I have not read Rainer’s book, but need to. I would be interested in his take on Collins. I checked out your blog and am looking forward to what you’re going to do with it. People do read this stuff and it’s also good therapy for the blogger to say it. Good luck!

  6. Thanks, Chuck. I’d be interested in reading some of your thoughts on the book. And thanks for your encouragement as well…I also hope you don’t mind that I added you to my blogroll.

  7. Chuck – the problem with business world models being applied to the church is that the church is often a much more fluid organization then a typical hierarchical corporate environment. I have found that the church depends heavily on the cross-training of individuals to meet the needs of many of the populations. For example, I attend a small church and I work with the youth and the creative planning teams as well as lead some bible studies. Now, some of these things are out of my own choosing, but some are that I saw a need and no one addressing it so I stepped up and filled it. Corporate America is hierarchical and often times the culture needs to change in order to accomodate fluidity. Just my thoughts. Thanks for the dialogue.

  8. Dave, I agree that the church is more fluid, particularly the small church. And the corporate world model is hierarchical. But a bigger difference than that between business and church is the very nature of the two. Church is the body of Christ — put together by God’s Spirit, equipped, gifted, nurtured, and led by God. Business is, well, business. Two different worlds. Can we learn from some things in this world? Absolutely, but we cannot adopt the corporate model for the church in any sense because we already have a better model than that. I think we like business models because we can do them without the messiness of trying to discern and follow God. But that’s just my opinion. Thanks for checking in.

  9. I think we look to business models often because we are consumed with “success” and the definition of success. We look at IBM and say, “Wow, they are successful. Maybe we should do in our church what they do in their business and be successful too.”

    It’s harder to define “success” for a church…so we go wherever we can find a pattern and example for success. Businesses seem to be just that.

    Just my two cents.

    Keep up the good work, Chuck.

  10. Brandon, you are right, we are success-driven. But, suppose the church wasn’t intended to be “successful.” What if the church is intended to be a different society, where the measure is not how big we are, but how faithful we are. We in the church, followers of Jesus, have the greatest story possible — that Jesus is alive, that the rule and reign of God is present now and is fully coming. Paul said every knee would bow at the name of Jesus. Can’t get anymore successful, by any standard, than that!

  11. Chuck, you are absolutely right. And after re-reading my post, I realize that I failed to state that I am not pro-business model for the church. And I am not pro-success for the church as far as measuring ourselves by business standards.

    And so…I say a hearty “amen” to your follow-up.

  12. Amazingly, I read David Fitch’s book, The Great Giveaway, this week. Tonight I read the last chapter and posted a quote from it. David sees a different vision for the future of the church as well. See my post featuring his quote. — Chuck

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