There’s an old saying, “It’s what you believe that just ain’t so” that hurts you the most.
There are leaders and pastors that have believed lies about small churches. Lies that just ain’t so. Here Carey Nieuwhof shares five of them.
Originally posted by Carey Nieuwhof
1. What Works There Won’t Work Here
You’ve heard it so many times. Maybe you’ve said it. “What works in the Bible-Belt/big-city/suburbs/fill-in-the-blank won’t work here.”
In my country, Canada, it plays out this way: What works in the U.S. won’t work in Canada.
9 years ago when I launched Connexus Church (with many of the same people I’d worked with for over a decade in the area), we signed on as one of the first North Point Strategic Partners. People were both fascinated and critical, wondering how anything that originated in the Bible-belt of the US could work in a postmodern, post-Christian Canada.
But surprisingly, it does work.
Whenever people ask me how much translates to north of the border, my answer is always the same: about 90%. We run Andy Stanley’s teaching via video and people love it. Imagine that… American video teaching working in Canada. (People also claim video teaching doesn’t work. So that’s two birds… one stone.) Sure, I also teach live. But attendance really doesn’t vary based on the communicator. And one of our physical locations is 100% video. Our online ministry is also 100% video.
Most of the model translates directly. So do the branding and marketing.
Occasionally, we won’t run a series because it’s explicitly American or cultural (we didn’t run Andy’s election messages or the Christian series because it addressed Bible-Belt issues). But for the most part, we run the model and our boots-on-the-ground team of staff and volunteers focus as much on the execution as the invention.
When it comes to what works where – it’s often your attitude that determines the outcome. One of my all-time favourite quotes is from Henry Ford, who said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Bang on.
2. My Context Is Different
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a church leader say this, I think we could pay off the national debt.
Look, your context absolutely matters. A city church is different than a country one. Urban is different than suburban. West Coast is not East Coast. North isn’t South. I get that.
But I don’t think I’ve ever heard a leader pull out the “my context is different” argument as a reason for their success (my context is different, and that’s why we’re reaching X thousand people…it can only happen here!!).
I’ve only heard leaders say it to justify a lack of progress.
Leaders trot this out when they want to explain why they’re not able to do whatever someone is suggesting might help them.
But the reality is that you are ministering to people. And people have some pretty universal tendencies. Think about it. In the West, we:
Listen to most of the same music.
Wear the same clothes.
Drive the same cars.
Struggle with love/hate/shame/unforgiveness/brokenness/bitterness.
People are people.
And sure, a few more people drive Priuses and Teslas in Vancouver and California than they do in Montana or Saskatchewan. But that doesn’t mean the Gospel should die because of it.
Your context isn’t that different from anyone else’s as long as you’re ministering to people. And should definitely not be a reason the Gospel can’t move forward in your neighbourhood.
3. If You Build It They Will Come
Field of Dreams was a great movie. But the tagline doesn’t make for great theology.
Too many church leaders think their problem is their building or lack of it.
If their church wasn’t portable, it would grow.
If they got out of their ancient building, they’d grow.
If hey got into a bigger/smaller/better building they’d grow.
We opened a multi-million dollar broadcast location last year north of Toronto. We had a good year, but I don’t think it was because of the building. Sure, well-wishers and the curious came and checked it out. And then they left.
A building can help you grow, but it won’t make you grow.
Think of a restaurant for a minute. Do you ever go back to a restaurant because of a facility? Probably not. If a restaurant has a great building and terrible food, you’re out of there.
Conversely, there are more than a few hole-in-the-walls that serve amazing tacos that have long lines of people waiting to get in.
You can lead a growing church in a dying building, and a dying church in a great building.
Buildings don’t reach people. People reach people.
4. People Don’t Give
I hear this often, especially in Canada. And actually, the stats would say that Canadians do give less per capita to charities and churches than Americans do. But that doesn’t mean your people have to fit that trend.
Over the last five years, we have worked really hard to raise the level of giving among all ages at Connexus, and it’s worked.
It’s a systems approach we’ve used that has seen us run over 600 people through a budgeting course that has resulted in a ton of financial freedom for our congregation, especially for Millennials. They know we’re for them, and we want them to save for retirement, save for their kids’ education, save for their vacation and give generously. More importantly, we’ve shown them how to do it.
At the same time, we’ve run a multi-tiered approach to raising giving and funding our mission.
The result? We have more money to reach people than we ever have before AND our families have more money for their lives.
Leaders ask us all the time how we do this. The strategy is outlined in detail in a new resource by Joe Sangl and Michael Lukaszewski I’m very excited about called Fully Funded (affiliate link). It’s helped us fund a facility, a growing mission, and online campus and much more, plus help our families get on their feet. Even in Canada.
5. People Don’t Like Big Churches
The data just doesn’t support the view that people hate big churches. Many large churches keep growing. And many smaller churches keep shrinking.
It’s important to keep your church relational and feeling ‘smaller’ as you grow.
The bigger your church is, the smaller it needs to feel. But through small groups, serving teams, multisite and other ventures, larger churches continue to grow even as they establish smaller footprints.
Christmas Eve is one of our biggest outreaches every year. Last year, we hosted 2,000 people in two cities. The largest room holds 700 people. So it’s a big reach using small rooms.
This year, we are going to host services in four cities (you can see the initiative here), going into two new communities in which we’ve never had service before. We don’t know what will become of that, but we now have the potential to reach 3000 this Christmas with a new strategy. Again, come to any of those rooms, and it will still feel fairly intimate.
It’s not a question of whether people like big churches or small churches. People like effective churches.
If a large church is effective in reaching people, people come. If a small church is effective in reaching people, people come and bring friends until (often) it’s no longer a small church.