Reality Check: Your Church Plant Might Start (and Stay) Small

Three facts sit atop my “things I wish someone had told me in Bible college” list.

Three facts sit atop my “things I wish someone had told me in Bible college” list.

Fact #1: 80-90 percent of pastoral ministry students will never pastor a church larger than 250 people.

Fact #2: 99.9 percent of us will pastor a small church for at least some time in our ministry.

Fact #3: You can pastor a small church well, without settling for less.

I was taught over and over how to break the 200 barrier. Yet I was never taught how to pastor a church under 200. And I was never told that this would likely be the way I’d spend most, if not all my ministry years.

And we’re still doing it. Teaching ministry students how to get through 200 without teaching them how to do it well under 200. Isn’t that just a little cart-before-the-horse-ish?

Let’s take a look at these points, one at a time.

1. Most of Us Will Never Pastor a Big Church

How do I know this? Because 90 percent of the churches in the world have less than 200 people in them. Even in the developed world, 90 percent of churches have less than 250-300.

When is someone going to break this news to our pastoral ministry students and church planters?

Instead, we pump them up with big church principles, most of which are only applicable to 10 percent of the churches in existence. Then we wonder why so many pastors burn out in ministry, leaving damaged churches in their wake.

Most lead pastors will spend the majority of their ministry in small churches because 90 percent of churches are small.

Certainly some of those churches will grow. But the undeniable, statistical fact is that most of them will stay small. So why are we teaching ministry students big church skills, almost exclusively? Most of those skills will never apply to 90 percent of the ministry they’ll be doing.

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2. All of Us Will Pastor a Small Church at Some Time

Unless you’re an associate pastor, 99.9 percent of pastors will spend at least some time pastoring a small church.

If you’re a ministry student or beginning church planter, I know you’re convinced you’ll be the exception to this rule. I knew I would be. But, even if you expect to build a church to megasize, the absolutely irrefutable fact is that unless your father currently pastors a megachurch, no one will ask you to pastor a megachurch as your first position in ministry.

Maybe you’ll go to an existing small church and it will grow to mega. Maybe you’ll be a church planter and oversee its growth to become the next big thing. But even if you do, here’s an undeniable reality.

Before it becomes big, it will be small.

So, since every pastor will lead a small church for at least some time in their ministry, shouldn’t we be teaching how to do it well?

Plus … and I know this will sound like lack of faith to some people … but … what if the megaplans for megachurch growth don’t pan out that way? It doesn’t for 80-90 percent of us.

I know we’re all convinced we’re great speakers and leaders. We have revolutionary ideas no one has ever heard of before. We have faith to move mountains.

But what if … ?

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Karl Vaters
Karl Vaters is the author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking That Divides Us. He’s been in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and has been the lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California for over 20 years. He’s also the founder of NewSmallChurch.com, a blog that encourages, connects and equips innovative Small Church pastors.
  • Mark

    Amen, Brother. I have thought these things throughout my ministry but have had trouble taking them to heart. I think I’m finally getting there, though (Praise the Lord!). Whom or what are we seeking to serve? Our own dreams of what our ministries should be, or the Lord and the flocks He has entrusted to our care? Thank you for this article.