I pastored two small churches for a combined total of 17 years.
In the first small church, I didn’t realize how good I had it. The people were loving and patient. They gave me a chance to grow and learn the role of pastor. They let me make mistakes. They loved us in significant ways.
But I felt bad about the smallness of the church. The church grew a little and then shrank a little. No matter how much we tried, it never became a medium-sized church, and I felt bad about it.
Some years later, I had the privilege of starting a new church in a downtown community. I didn’t know what size that church would be. Because of the kind of community — especially because of the transience of the community — it remained small. But this time I was ready: I was able to recognize the beauty of the church even though it was small.
We tend to value big things. Many times, we miss the beauty and significance of small churches because we believe that small churches are somehow deficient. I’ve increasingly come to believe that small churches, medium churches, and large churches are just different. One isn’t better than the other; each has sets of strengths and challenges. Churches of every size can be healthy; churches of every size are significant. Pastors and members of small churches don’t need to be discouraged. God is at work in even the most humble church.
I recently had the privilege of meeting Ron Johnston, executive director of Small Church Connections. When we talked, I knew right away that I’d want to interview him about the value and challenges of small churches in a culture that often values bigness. I hope this conversation encourages you about the value of small church ministry.
You can listen to the podcast episode below, or find The Gospel for Life podcast on your favorite podcast app.
- Ron traces the origins of the emphasis on church growth back to the Church Growth Movement of the 1950s.
- He talks about his personal experiences as a pastor in small churches and emphasizes the importance of being content and appreciating the significance of individual ministry.
- Small Church Connections aims to serve small churches across Canada through encouragement, support, retreats, and research projects.
- Challenges faced by small churches include feelings of failure and difficulties in building quality leadership teams.
- Small churches have strengths in their focus on relationships, intergenerational dynamics, and their collective impact on many people.
- Ron encourages pastors and small churches to see their role as a divine calling and to keep going in their ministry, focusing on the rewards and eternal significance of their work.
“I often say to small churches … that if I came back in a few years time, and they had grown enormously, and their budget was three times what it is right now, and they were running programs everywhere. I'll say you would not be one speck more valuable in the eyes of God than you are right at this moment, because you'd still be a part of the body of Christ.” (00:02:20 → 00:03:00)
"No matter what the size of a church, ministry is to individuals." (00:05:09 → 00:05:14)
"One of the things that I think is so incredibly important for anyone who's in some aspect of full time Christian ministry is that sense that God has called you, and that's why you're there." (00:06:34 → 00:07:37)
"I've never met a small church pastor that didn't need encouragement." (00:10:15 → 00:10:18)
"The rewards [of being a pastor] are second to none. When you see that young person really get turned on for God or you see that marriage come back together, or you see that person who started attending your church become a Christian or whatever it might be. We get to participate in some weddings and some of the most joyous times that there are. And we do it as part of what God is doing." (00:20:26 → 00:20:37)
- The Call by Os Guinness
Download a PDF transcript of this episode.