Small Church CAN Be Healthy: 9 Essentials

Small churches should have a baseline of quality that people can rely on.

When someone goes to a healthy Small Church for the first time, what should they expect?

That’s an easier question to answer for big churches because they have a lot more in common with each other. Once any group—church or not—is serving 1,000 or more people at a time, certain systems have to be in place. So, while big churches each have their own personality, there is a level of quality control that we all expect to see. Age-appropriate Kid Ministries, high-end musicianship, professional-quality graphics and printed materials, etc. It’s like going to a brand-name restaurant when you’re travelling. There’s a comfort level in knowing what you’re going to get.

But the kinds of experiences you’ll have in Small Churches varies widely. It’s more like visiting a new town and deciding to check out the local diner. You don’t know what you’re going to get, but you take the risk because you want regional cuisine. And you’re hoping for an experience you can’t get anywhere else.

But even in a Small Church, as varied as they are, first-time guests have the right to expect certain things that tell them the church is healthy. Like a local restaurant should observe standard requirements for cleanliness, service and food quality, Small Churches should have a baseline of quality that people can rely on.

In one of my most-read posts, 23 Non-Numerical Signs of a Healthy Church, I wrote about some of the ways we can tell if a church is healthy, even if we don’t have the numerical growth that many seem to believe is a requirement.

Here are a few things that I think are a baseline that every guest has a right to expect in any healthy Small Church. These are universal. The standards every church needs to observe if they want to create a great worship experience that people will want to come back for.

This list isn’t complete. So feel free to add your ideas in the comment section.

1. Genuine, Intentional Friendliness

This is the main reason people go to a Small Church instead of a big one—connectedness and community. While lack of it is probably the #1 reason guests won’t return. This is something all healthy Small Churches should excel at.

In Why Unfriendly Big Churches Are Bad—But Unfriendly Small Churches Can Be Dangerous, I talked about how hard it can be for someone to walk into a Small Church for the first time. Receiving or not receiving a genuinely friendly greeting may make or break that experience for them.

You may think your church is friendly. Most church people do, because that’s where their friends are. But we must be intentional about reaching outside of our own circle to welcome others in.

2. Sincere, Passionate Worship and Prayer

Your Small Church probably isn’t putting out a studio-quality worship album this year. In fact, your response to that last sentence may have been, “Yeah, right. What worship team?!” But that doesn’t mean your worship can’t be sincere and passionate.

I haven’t been quiet about the fact that I prefer new music for my worship experience. But new or old doesn’t really matter. Even though I believe we should do it the best we can, real worship isn’t about the songs or the musicianship. It’s about hearts turned toward Jesus in praise and prayer.

3. A Building That’s Been Painted Within the Last Decade

Last year my wife and I were in a Gypsy church in Eastern Europe. The poverty was oppressive. The building had no indoor plumbing. But what they did have was tended to with great care and respect.

If your church has a building, it needs to be kept up. That means budgeting for long-term maintenance like painting, repairing leaks, etc. It doesn’t need to be perfect—a lot of Small Churches aren’t able to pay their pastor’s salary, so it can be hard to justify upgrading the building. But the free or almost-free things like painting the building and cutting the grass shows care and concern.

4. A Building That’s Been Cleaned Within the Last Week

You don’t even need to own a building to do this. Wherever you’re meeting needs to be scrubbed clean. Especially the restrooms and kids’ areas.

5. Start on Time

I know not everyone gets to church on time. Just a few weeks ago, we started a service with fewer people in the seats than on stage. But if you get into the habit of starting late because people arrive late, they’ll get into the habit of coming even later.

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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.