Such growth–tripling in less than three years–is much easier in a small church. In our case, it involved such factors as newcomers flowing into our area from other states, there being only one other viable Baptist church as an alternative, and publicity to alert the surrounding neighborhoods to our presence. I led a healthy program for our youth and that drew in families.
It was a fun time in my ministry, and I learned how to grow a small church.
The advantages of the smaller church
Pastoring a small church usually means the pastor has everything to do himself. But that’s not all bad. There are a number of advantages to it. The pastor has fewer leaders to deal with, he can know all the members, and change can come more quickly. After all, a Volkswagen Beetle can turn around in less space than a steam locomotive.
Here are some suggestions on turning around that VW Beetle, aka, the smaller church.
Let’s say you are the new pastor of Smaller Church No. 2 located on Poplar Springs Road, twelve miles out of the city. Forty people is a good crowd on Sunday, but the facility could easily seat a hundred.
There are no sure-fire methods to do this, and anyone who says there is should be suspect. If Smaller Church No. 2 (hereafter referred to as SC2) is unhealthy or dominated by one angry family or if the community is drying up and people are moving away, growth is not going to happen. In those cases, the pastor does what he can to get the church healthy and balanced. That is, he does what he can.
But assuming SC2 is reasonably healthy, that it’s located near people, that its leaders are godly and are born again, even if they are not inspired or disciplined or directed, you can do this.
That’s a lot of assuming, but let’s say these things are so. How, then, would you go about growing that church? Here is my answer….
One: Pray. Spend a great deal of time every day on your knees. Do not try this–or anything else–on your own. You want the Lord to do this and be glorified in it.
Two: Build a team. Win the trust of your leadership.
Three: Paint. Paint up, clean up, spruce up. Have a work day. Work with your leadership on what needs to be done, purchasing supplies, enlisting workers, etc.
Four: Neglect no one. Work with your leaders to see that each age group is being ministered to reasonably well. As a church grows, it can have separate ministries for children or youth or college, but at first, these are often combined.
Five: Follow-up. As pastor, contact every guest who visits your church. Don’t announce you’re doing it, just do it. Make sure the Sunday bulletin has a place for first-timers to register. Or, if you do not have a bulletin (fewer and fewer churches seem to these days), make yourself available immediately after the benediction to meet newcomers. Then, sometime that week, contact them by mail, email, phone, or visit.
Six: Celebrate victories great and small. In the example cited above, one month into my pastorate, we celebrated the church’s anniversary and over-shot the attendance goal. For a small congregation that had sat there for years doing nothing, these were huge accomplishments. Soon we were doing this with VBS and mission offering goals.
Seven: Improve the services. Do something about the music and singing in the service if you can. Get two or three key people to praying with you for the Lord to bring gifted musicians and singers to your church. In a small church where a piano alone provides accompaniment to the singing, a couple of guitars or a keyboard can make a great difference. Enlist the participation of your pianist, of course. You want to keep the musicians you have if possible, and not be replacing them with newcomers. (Repeating: Try not to make your present accompanists feel unwanted; enlist their help.)
Eight: Add a spirit of joy to the worship services. You do this by your attitude, by calling attention to accomplishments of those who do well, as well as by the tempo and choice of music for the service.
Nine: Celebrate the saints. As you welcome the new members and celebrate the changes, do not neglect the longtime leaders who have served this church in good times and bad. The first defections from a growing church are often people who have served for years but who now feel they are being pushed out.
Ten: Fellowship. Create occasions for fellowship when members share meals together and sit around tables visiting and chatting. Encourage longtime members to sit at tables with newcomers.
Eleven: Hospitality. Teach your people–particularly the leadership–the scripture’s teachings on hospitality–especially Luke 10 (the Good Samaritan) and Hebrews 13:1-3. In Leviticus 19:9-18 and 19:33-37, God instructs Israel to take care of the poor, the newcomer, and the foreigners. Leviticus 19:18,34 is the source of our Lord’s Second Commandment, to love one’s neighbor as oneself. As a rule, pastor, such lessons are better taught in smaller groups or in Wednesday night sessions.
Twelve: Greeters. Station greeters outside the front doors on Sunday, at least 15 minutes prior to events. They should be encouraged to stay alert, ready to assist the elderly or handicapped from their cars, and equipped with large umbrellas in case of rain. The pastor will want to drop by each Sunday at some point to make sure they are on the job and compliment them. (Caution them about spending the time talking to each other rather than watching for arriving worshipers.) Drop them a thank-you note occasionally and rotate this responsibility.
Thirteen: Comfort. Pay attention to the comfort in the sanctuary, the seating, the audio, the temperature, etc. Consider enlisting a couple of ladies to make recommendations about décor, comfort, visual impact, etc.
Fourteen: Cleanliness is a huge factor, everywhere but in particular with rest rooms. If this is a problem for SC2, the pastor may need to convene a small group of lay leaders and discuss the best way to deal with this.
Fifteen: Discipleship. Even though the pastor may be tempted to do everything himself, his goal is to develop disciples of the Lord Jesus. When a member agrees to take responsibility for some area, a good pastor will not check it off his list, but keep an eye on it, express appreciation for a job well done, and from time to time ask if the worker needs anything from him.