The differences in old small churches and new small churches

Knox Life Church at Remedy Coffee in Knoxville, TN
Knox Life Church at Remedy Coffee in Knoxville, TN

Les Puryear posted an interesting list of small church distinctives this week.  His list got me to thinking about the possible differences in “old” small churches and “new” small churches.

By “old” I mean what we typically think of as a small church whether it’s in a rural, small town, suburban, or even urban setting.  “Old” means established and conventional.  By conventional I mean that an old small church has worship; usually has one pastor and maybe some part-time staff;  focuses on typical church programs and activities; and operates primarily on gifts from its members.

By “new” I mean churches that have taken new models, like KnoxLife Church in Knoxville, TN that operates a coffee shop and meets in that same space for its weekly gathering.  Matthew’s Table in Lebanon, TN is another example of what I call a “marketplace” church — a church that runs a business to create revenue and engage its community, but also has some forms of conventional church such as a weekly worship gathering.

My guess is that in these “new” small churches, pastoral care is performed by more than just the pastor (if there is a solo pastor in the new church).  And, some of these small churches have multiple leaders, some (or all ) of whom may not be paid anything.

My point is we may have to rethink what we mean when we say “small church.”  Neomonastic communities are small churches, marketplace churches are small churches, mission-driven groups like Scott Linklater’s church in Las Vegas are small churches, but none of these would have all the common characteristics of conventional small churches.

We might need whole new categories to distinguish conventional churches from unconventional.  Personally, I think the “un-s” are the group to watch for clues to the future of all churches.  But, that’s just my opinion.  What do you think?

6 thoughts on “The differences in old small churches and new small churches”

  1. Chuck,

    I agree with your post. My small church distinctives was really about “old” small churches or perhaps “traditional” might be a more accurate description.


  2. Personally, I think the “un-s” are the group to watch for clues to the future of all churches. But, that’s just my opinion. What do you think?

    I think you’re right on.

  3. You know our situation here in Taiwan, Chuck — we’re hanging in there, by God’s grace, but still essentially without pastoral leadership (our volunteer pastor takes care of preaching, but is not leading us towards a new model). Seeing more examples of churches with leadership teams is encouraging. As a church, we have a willingness to reach out to the community in various way, but most of the books we read about transitioning to a new church model said that without a clear head of the congregation the changes would fail. This was our main reason for calling a pastor after many years of being a missionary fellowship. Seeing successful unconventional models gives me hope.

    We have new leadership rising up in our ranks, and I am encouraging them to read your blog and the many useful links you post. Keep up the good work.

  4. Kathy, good to hear from you again. I would take what the “experts” say with a grain of salt. Your church is on a journey to find and fulfill your mission. God will lead you, and you will figure this out. I like the marketplace church concept because church space gets used 7-days a week, and the church engages with its community in friendship. Plus, selling coffee helps pay the bills, too. Of course, I realize that Taiwan is not the US and that space, rent, and being the minority faith in a pluralistic culture presents you with several challenges. Please keep me posted on your journey. -Chuck

  5. i think it is important to understand we are all connected in as symbiotic whole, the neos the mods the emos our paths and styles are different but the calling is the same. God raises up from within each people group to reach that people group. It is evidence that our society is not homogeneous and neither is the gospel.

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