There are countless numbers of websites and blogs out there dedicated to helping churches realize the potential of developing a strategy for effective ministry. Unfortunately, there is a curious shortage of strategies that can be easily implemented by a small church with limited resources.
I can proudly say that I’ve been a member of the smallest of churches and visited the largest of churches in my area. There is indeed a sharp distinction between the two, and for good reason. Larger churches have the added luxury of expendable cash and lots of willing volunteers. While this may not always be the case, it certainly is most of the time.
The problem lies in the smaller church’s ability to effectively minister to its congregation. Perhaps the pastor has to work another job because of the lack of funds, rendering him unable to adequately prepare, or perhaps the lack of members makes for a lousy, boring and dull music service. The problem is still the same. As a member of a church like that, you take it upon yourself to search for strategies to help your situation. Unfortunately, all you find is big church people, giving out big church strategies, to help the big church get bigger. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it certainly doesn’t help you much.
That’s why I wanted to write this post. This post is for smaller churches looking to find a way to help your church be more effective in its ability to minister. A worthy goal indeed. So without any more rambling from me, here are 10 strategies for small churches:
1. Develop a strategy to minister to both current members and potential members.
One way to guarantee that your small church stays small is to only think about, minister to, pray for or pay attention to your current members. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you ignore them, but you have to look beyond the needs of just the people in the building and start looking at the community.
2. Get a website.
Hear me out. Some of you may think that this is a big church strategy, but it’s not. Web hosts are cheap, and most churches can afford them. The design part can be a little tricky, but there are many Web people out there who would be more than willing to help out. Here’s the key though: You have to use the website. Pastors, use the website as a way to connect to those potential members. I’m sick and tired of seeing pastors be lethargic concerning technology. You need to be the one who pushes the idea. You need to be the one who encourages your people to visit the site. You need to be the one who organizes programs to promote and utilize the website. If you don’t do it, who will?
3. Think smaller—as in height.
The kids are the single most important part of your ministry. Spend a lot of time, money and effort on having a good children’s program. Make church a place they want to be every week. If that means asking Betty, the lady who has been teaching children’s church for the last 30 years, to step aside, so be it. You have a responsibility to those kids to give them a good foundation. Ever wonder why you have 15 4- to 12-year-olds, but only have three teenagers in your church, and absolutely no 18- to 30-year-olds? Somewhere along the line, they got bored with church. Use the core group you have now to develop a good group for the future. Trust me, if the kids like church, the parents won’t have any choice but to bring them. And for heaven’s sake, don’t make the kids sit through the regular service. Give them something that they will enjoy, and let the grown-ups worship in peace!
4. Be willing to make the tough decisions.
If that means canceling the Wednesday night service because only a handful of people are coming, grow a spine and do it. If that means standing up to “that family” who tries to run the church, be a man and do it. People will follow leadership (more on that later).
5. Utilize your strongest assets.
Every church has someone that has a talent. Maybe your church has a great singer, or a good financial manager, or a great pianist, or a computer geek, or a great manager. Whoever they are and whatever they can do, take advantage of it. Find out who has a passion to serve and what their talents are, and develop a relationship with them. Call them into your office and share your vision with them, instill your passion in them, and demonstrate your leadership to them. People naturally respond to passion, vision and leadership, and when goals are clearly laid out, talented people with passion usually respond in a big way.
6. Use media to compensate for lack of resources.
If you don’t have the greatest singers in the world, use things like videos and soundtracks to open up the service or play during the offering. We did this for the Christmas Eve service at my dad’s church, and it worked wonderfully. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about this, so be careful. If you don’t have a video projector, just use your P.A. system. The effect won’t be quite as dramatic, but it will still work.
Pull together a team from your members and brainstorm. What are you planning on preaching next week? Run it by them to see if they have some good ideas to add. Let them give you creative ideas to help the message be clearly transmitted. Give them copies of your notes and give them a couple of days to critique it. Using a variety of minds to develop a service will help your church communicate more clearly.
8. Put it on a screen and/or put it in my hand.
Give me something that I can take home and continue to digest through the week. Put the summary and notes (with blanks to fill in) in the handout to encourage involvement during the message. Use perforated cards on the bulletin that can be torn out and given to friends as an invitation to upcoming services.
9. Themed Message series.
I visited Marathon Church here in the upstate probably over a year ago, and I still remember the message. Why? Because the stage was creatively decorated and the pastor came out dressed as a police officer. Like it or not, themed sermons help the audience retain information. You do want them to learn something from your service, don’t you?
10. Have lunch with pastors and church planters.
Let some of their passion and vision rub off on you. Unfortunately, many pastors treat the ministry as a competition with the pastor down the road. It’s not. Realize that we all have “special teams” that we are coaching, but we still work for the same “Head Coach.” Swallow your pride and pick up the phone. You’ll be glad you did.
“I can speak to the small churches on small budgets who are looking to be creative … because we were that church not too long ago.
“The big thing is think big, start small! No … you can’t do what other ‘big churches’ do … but you can do things to make Sunday’s more exciting. Creativity does not have to cost a lot of money. It’s amazing what can take place with a few dollars and creative minds. I would tell pastors to find creative people in the church and form a team and say, ‘Here is what I want to communicate … is there any way to really get this point across’ and then watch and see what happens.”
“Illustration: Have you ever been dressed to the nines for a wedding and had to stop along the way at a gas station? Feels pretty silly to be dressed so nice pumping gas. And it almost feels like you need to explain to everyone: ‘I’m going to a wedding …’ whether they ask or not.
“But when you get to where you’re going, you’ll look great. You’ll fit right in.
“Church growth is like this. It feels silly sometimes to build structures and systems that accommodate more people than you’re currently serving. But you must. In fact, my mentors have told me to structure Elevation like we have twice as many people as we currently do.”
Read the rest of “Dress for the Wedding, Not the Gas Station” over at Steven’s blog.
Well, I hope that’s helpful to all the smaller churches out there. What are you waiting for?
Nathan Rice lives in the Southeast, works in the field of information technology, is a Christian and blogs on a variety of topics.
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