The Strategic Advantages of the Small Church Pastoring the Small Church: An interview with Pastor Chris Johnson The Bi-Vocational Small Church Pastor: An interview with Pastor Nick Lightfoot Small Church, Big Impact - Book review
ISSUE 72 AUTUMN 2016
The Effectiveness of the Small Church: What the statistics really say
In this issue
From the Director
This edition of PRAC we’ve focused on the opportunities and challenges facing smaller sized churches for evangelism and discipleship. We’ve sought to put a spotlight on the unique scenarios small churches find themselves in, and highlight new avenues and opportunities for the gospel that might not be possible in a larger community. Chris Johnson shares from his experience of 25 years pastoring smaller churches in both rural and urban contexts. He shares about the advantages and challenges faced leading a small group of people with a strong commitment to their church. Stan Fetting reviews the book Small Church Big Impact, by Brandon O’Brien, exploring the unique opportunities smaller churches have for discipling and mentoring relationships, intergenerational communities, and cultivating authenticity. Ian Hussey explores the strategic advantages of smaller churches. He examines opportunities for intimacy, authenticity, all-age worship, simplicity from programs and structures and proposes that smaller churches should embrace these strategic opportunities. Ian refers to his recent research using NCLS data to compare different sized churches and reflects on how the size of a church can affect its vitality and effectiveness for ministry and evangelism. Nick Lightfoot shares about his experience as a bi-vocational Pastor of a small church in Queensland. He reflects on the opportunities and challenges for both him as a Pastor and the church, which are enabled by having a bi-vocational Pastor. Many Baptist churches around Australia are not in the ‘big church’ category, yet God is using them to share his glory in unique and important ways. We hope this issue of PRAC will help you and your church leadership consider some strategic opportunities your church context presents for gospel-sharing and faith growing. Let me take this opportunity to thank you for your generous support of the Crossover 2016 Easter Offering and your partnership in helping Australian Baptists share Jesus.
This is also an excellent opportunity to hear the voice of the whole church. Including children in the National Church Life Survey will give you valuable insights into how children participate in the life of the local church and mission engagement and the difference it makes to their experience of church and faith expression.
Keith Jobberns Director Crossover
We encourage all the leaders of our local of Baptist churches to make use of the 2016 NCLS as a research tool to sharpen the missional edge of their church as well as for our national Baptist movement.
Follow us www.crossover.org.au
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NCLS has become an essential resource for the leadership of local Baptist churches as they seek to be more effective as agents of God’s mission in their local context. At a national level the NCLS research is pivotal to the development of missional strategies for the Australian Baptist movement as we seek to see our nation transformed by the good news of Jesus.
Order your surveys before 30th June 2016 at
The Effectiveness of the Small Church:
What the statistics really say By Rev Dr Ian Hussey
Small-church pastor and writer, Karl Vaters, identifies what he calls “the grasshopper myth.”1 When the people of Israel gazed into the Promised Land they remarked, “All the people we saw were of great size…We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:32-33). Vaters argues that many small churches and pastors struggle with this “grasshopper myth.” He documents his own journey into wandering, whining and placing blame before he finally arrived at the place where he was willing to accept his call to be a small church pastor – and be proud of it! So, what are the facts about the effectiveness and vitality of small churches? Crossover and Malyon College commissioned the NCLS to undertake a quantitative analysis of the vitality and effectiveness of smaller Australian Baptist churches.2 For those with a little knowledge of statistics, we asked the NCLS to check the correlations between church size and a range of other factors measured by the national survey in 2011. Correlations just measure how strongly things are related to each other. The research showed that church size was positively correlated with:
• Church growth (moderate correlation).
Interpretation: Larger churches are more likely to be growing percentage wise.
• The proportion of switchers in the church
(weak correlation). Interpretation: Larger churches tend to have more switchers.
• Young adult retention (weak correlation).
Interpretation: Larger churches had a lower age profile, and a higher youth retention.
Church size was negatively correlated with:
• attenders who had invited someone to
church in the previous year that they have found it easy to make • attenders who were certain or very likely friends in the congregation (moderate to follow up a drifter correlation). Interpretation: Larger churches • attenders who regularly gave 5% or tend to haveless people saying it was easy more of their net income to the church to make friends. • attenders who agreed that the congregation • The proportion of attenders who always or is always ready to try something new mostly seek to make new arrivals welcome • attenders who agreed that leaders inspire (strong correlation). Interpretation: Larger them to action churches tend to have less people saying they welcome new arrivals. • attenders who agreed that leaders communicate clearly and openly • The proportion of attenders who experienced
• The proportion of attenders who agreed
strong and growing belonging (weak correlation). Interpretation: Larger churches tend to have less people saying they have a strong and growing sense of belonging.
• The proportion of attenders in a leadership
role (moderate correlation). Interpretation: Larger churches tend to have less people in a leadership role.
• The proportion of attenders who felt that
leaders encouraged them to use their gifts and skills to a great or some extent (moderate correlation). Interpretation: Larger churches tend to have less people saying they felt their gifts and skills were being used.
• The proportion of attenders who strongly agreed that they have a strong sense of belonging to the denomination (weak correlation). Interpretation: Larger churches tend to have less people saying have a strong and growing belonging to the denomination.
Church size did not correlate significantly with the proportion of:
• newcomers in the church • attenders who attended most weeks or more often
• attenders who agreed that leaders
encourage innovation and creative thinking
• attenders who agreed that leaders help the congregation build on its strengths
What does this tell us? Well, larger churches are more likely to be growing numerically through having more switchers from other churches and retaining their young adults. However, on almost every other measure of vitality or effectiveness (including newcomers) smaller churches are doing as well, if not better, than larger churches. Indeed, in terms of friendliness, making new people feel welcome and levels of involvement in ministry leadership, smaller churches are actually superior to larger churches. In other words, the grasshopper myth is DEAD. Rev Dr Ian Hussey is on faculty at Malyon College, QLD. He did his PhD on NCLS research and is on the Pastoral Leadership team at Taringa Baptist Church, Brisbane. Karl Vaters, The Grasshopper Myth: Big churches, small churches and the small thinking that divides us (Fountain Valley: New Small Church, 2012). 1
M. Pepper, S. Sterland, and R. Powell, Relationships between church size and church vitality for Baptist churches, NCLS Commissioned Report. (Sydney: NCLS Research, Australian Catholic University, 2015). 2
• attenders who participated in group activities
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The Strategic Advantages of the Small Church By Rev Dr Ian Hussey
There is a growing awareness that small churches are not just big churches that need to grow up, but are a unique and potent force. Small churches are being urged to realise that smallness is a strategic advantage God wants to use, not a problem to be fixed. The Church is the bride of Christ – even the smallest local manifestation of it. Leaders of small churches don’t need to be told of the special challenges they face because of their size: lack of human and financial resources and loss of young adults to larger congregations are two of the most acute. However, in the sovereign will of God small churches have unique advantages over larger churches which mean they can fulfil a unique function in the Kingdom of God. The most obvious advantage that smaller churches have over larger churches is their intimacy. In a larger church it is possible to attend worship services for years and still sit next to someone who has attended the same church for many years as well, but who you have never met before! For people who have spent all their lives in 03 | PRAC AUTUMN 2016
smaller churches this possibility seems hard to believe! Large churches may call themselves a family but, “What sort of family is it where you don’t even know most of the people you worship with?” David Ray writes,
Worship in small churches is a family reunion and more. People of various generations, who behave like an extended family and are connected by accident, choice, or blood come together to worship their heavenly parent, identify who is present and absent, exchange greetings and regrets, receive and pass on good news and bad, baptize and confirm, marry and bury, pray and eat, and practice the rituals that tell them whose they are, who they are, where they belong, and what they need to be doing. This familial nature of their worship is one of the distinctive features of small churches.1 Small groups can go some way to addressing the large-church phenomenon of not knowing everyone, and some people actually enjoy the anonymity of a large church. But for many people the idea of going to a church on Sunday
“where everybody knows your name” is a powerful and attractive notion. Certainly small churches can be cold and unfriendly, but there is something beautiful and attractive about going to a place where you have a meaningful relationship with all the others who are gathered. Brandon O’Brien2 suggests that another unique advantage that small churches have over larger churches is that they can more easily express authenticity, and authenticity is a highly valued commodity in our contemporary world. In their bestselling book, Authenticity,3 authors James Gilmore and Joseph Pine claim that instead of searching solely for high-quality goods and services, people increasingly make purchase decisions based on how real or fake they perceive something is. You will have noticed how “authentic” “organic” and “natural” are important marketing terms these days. Now, certainly churches of all sizes can express authenticity. But its easier for a small church. Larger churches, because of their more abundant resources are able to be excellent – high standard music, children’s ministry, glossy brochures and so on, all contribute to a quality experience for church attenders. However, excellence can also come across as “slick,” and for a growing number of people, “slick” is not as attractive as
the church growth scorecard they can be free to “de-program” themselves and focus on discipleship and its measurement.
“authentic.” Small churches usually struggle for excellence, but they have an abundance of authenticity exactly for this reason. The music might not be the latest, the musicians are few and not always on key, the building is old and small, the coffee is instant and the car parking limited. But this “earthiness” is the beauty of the small church. It may not be perfect but it is the “real thing.” Another strategic advantage of the small church is its ability to offer all-age worship. In its mandate to provide excellence, the larger church loses its ability to do worship which involves young people. In small churches I have been involved in, children have played in the band (even when they are not very good), done the Bible reading, collected the offering, been involved in the sermon and come to the front for a children’s story each week. Simply because of the logistics, and the commitment to excellence, you don’t see these things in a larger church. Instead, in order to provide quality age-appropriate ministry, you tend to see children and youth separated from the other members of the congregation at some stage in the service. However, because of smaller numbers this approach is often not possible for smaller churches. Many are not able to offer any more than a combined all-age children’s class and possibly something for the high schoolers. But this limitation also offers a unique opportunity for the small church to be an authentic (there is that word again) all-age community where different ages are not separated but are “forced” together.
The inability to provide age-specific ministry to children and youth is not something to be lamented but something to be celebrated. In our increasingly fragmented society the small church is a witness to the power of the gospel to produce ethnically and age diverse communities where people set aside their own preferences for the sake of relational coherence. Further, “People often grow more in intergenerational environments. That’s why God created families.”4 The limited financial and human resources of smaller churches provide another potential advantage – simplicity. Larger churches can be mind-bogglingly complex because of the vast range of programs they offer. Smaller churches, in contrast, can be beautifully simple. Sometimes the lack of resources means that the only “ministry” a small church can run is the Sunday morning service. Often this can be seen as a negative thing. But equally it can be a seen as empowering. Ministry becomes something that individuals do as they evangelise at work, disciple the young person from church at lunchtime and serve at the local footy club on the weekends, rather than a program you participate in at the church. Reggie McNeil talks about changing the scorecard for the church.5 A scorecard determines what gets rewarded and what gets done. Since the advent of the church growth movement we have focussed on measuring things like church attendance and giving trends as a way of measuring how successful churches are. According to this scorecard most small churches fail. But what if we change the scorecard from counting participation in programs to growth in disciples? You see, participation does not ensure maturation. People don’t grow just by attending programs, but sometimes that is all we measure. If small churches can set themselves free from
David Ray points out that a person can meditate alone. A person alone in a crowd can be entertained, informed and inspired. But, a person can only fully worship and be edified as by actively participating in worship with a Christian community, and a Christian community is a group of Christians who know and care about one another. The small church can create this disciple-growing community as well, if not better, than the larger church. We make a mistake if as small churches we try to imitate what larger churches do, especially in worship services. We do better if our small churches celebrate their uniqueness and build upon those strengths rather than trying to imitate the things that bigger churches already do well. The measure of a small church should not be whether it has grown or not. In the sovereign will of God, numerical growth is something that may, or may not, be granted. Certainly small churches should be praying for growth. But growth is not what it is all about. Demographic trends, departure of young adults to larger churches and aging facilities may mean that a successful smaller church never grows. But the goal of the small church is to be faithful to what it has been called to be, not to blame God for what it is not. Rev Dr Ian Hussey is on faculty at Malyon College, QLD. He did his PhD on NCLS research and is on the Pastoral Leadership team at Taringa Baptist Church, Brisbane. 1 David R. Ray, The Big Small Church Book (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1992). 61. 2 Brandon J. O’Brien, The Strategically Small Church: Intimate, nimble, authentic, effective (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010). 59. 3 James Gilmore and Joseph Pine, Authenticity: What consumers really want (Boston: Harvard Business School Press ). 4 Reggie McNeal, Missional Renaissance: Changing the scorecard for the Church (San Francisco: Wiley, 2009). 108. 5 McNeal, Missional Renaissance: Changing the scorecard for the Church.
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Pastoring the Small Church An Interview with Pastor Chris Johnson Pastoring the small church can be a rewarding business, but it can also be uniquely challenging. Chris Johnson has pastored smaller churches in both rural and urban settings for over 25 years. We interviewed him about his reflections. Chris, from your experience, what are some of the best things about being the Pastor of a small church? The greatest thing about a small church is that the people are keen to serve the Lord. Sometimes they didn’t know how but there was a keenness to serve and get involved. There is also a high sense of ownership, of each other and also of the church. Sometimes that can get in the way of actually doing things but it is like that because people genuinely love the church. Even the ones who are holding things back are doing it because they sincerely believe that they are acting in the best interests of the church. This commitment makes the church almost impossible to break! Seeing it like that helps. Sometimes we are scared that we may offend people or people will leave because of something we have said and done and the church will shrink, but because they have a high level of commitment it’s nice to know you can’t break it. 05 | PRAC AUTUMN 2016
Small churches function on relationships. Especially as the Pastor, people invite you into their lives at times when most families shut outsiders out. Births, marriages, marriage problems, children issues and death - they invite you in. In bigger churches it happens much more selectively. For me it is always a unique honour and privilege that I am invited into people’s secret special places and they trust me with that. There is also freedom in serving in a small church. Although there were lots of competing demands on my time, I could do whatever I wanted to do because it was all needed. What are some of the hardest things about being the pastor of a small church? For me the most difficult thing to cope with was the power block. Some long serving and faithful members of small churches begin to think it is “their” church, not God’s. That can make it hard for pastors who want to bring change. It was always done with the best of intentions but sometimes the power plays are nasty and unhelpful. On the other hand, sometimes small churches are full of discouraged people. The role-models held in high esteem are the Bill Hybels and Rick Warrens, who do a remarkable work but we never talk about the hundreds of churches/ministers who go around naked and fight lions or are sawn in two - the ones of whom the world is not worthy. Our training teaches the church must always be growing, so it is hard when the local mine closes or the community changes and starts to shrink. In those cases if a church can
shrink at a lower rate than the town then I think it’s a “successful church.” I’m also at my busiest in a small church because there are fewer people to do the work. What advice would you give to someone looking at committing themselves to being a small church Pastor? First, enjoy it. Being the pastor of a small church is like owning a cat; you don’t own it, it owns you. If you love it and feed it, the cat will love you in return and give you many years of happiness, but always on its terms. That brings with it a certain freedom. If something goes wrong it’s not your fault, it’s what they wanted to do. Second, don’t take it personally. Sometimes small churches are small for a reason. Other people have tried and met the same success as you. As painful as it can be, it’s not a deficiency in you and it’s not really a deficiency in the church either. It is what it is, a small church. It’s not your fault your cat doesn’t always do what you want it to do; it’s a cat, and that’s what makes them so lovable. Chris Johnson describes himself as an ordinary Baptist minister. At present he is the pastor of Glasshouse Country Baptist Church (in the same town as Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo). Chris is married to Sandy and they have two wonderful children. Chris has a passion to see people understand their Bibles, so they can understand and live out their faith as God intended. In his spare time Chris enjoys playing music with the church band.
The Bi-Vocational Small Church Pastor An Interview with Pastor Nick Lightfoot Nick Lightfoot, along with his wife Lisa, has been the bi-vocational pastor at Albion Baptist Church for 12 years. Albion Baptist is a small Baptist Church in inner Brisbane, QLD. We interviewed him about the advantages and disadvantages of this style of vocational ministry. Nick, can you tell us a little about Albion Baptist Church and the history of your involvement there? Albion Baptist Church was planted by Jireh Baptist church in the 1864. It grew to be a good sized congregation which always had a heart for outreach and missions. By the time I came to be called as Pastor in 2004, understanding it would be in a bi-vocational capacity, it was a very small church facing the threat of closing. What are the up-sides of being bi-vocational? The major advantage is that it keeps me grounded in the community. For example I am able to relate to the pressures that are faced in the work place. I am able to rub shoulders with those in the wider community. The church is also able to operate on a relatively small budget. It would not be financially viable if this church had to pay a fulltime Pastor.
You have been working as such for almost 12 years now. What has been the downside of being a bi-vocational small church Pastor? The only downside I can see is the possible clash between juggling two areas of work/ ministry. For me this has not been a major issue. Even when I was working for a local company the owner of the business was very accommodating and always allowed me the flexibility to attend to church and ministry needs. Later I started my own business which allows me even greater flexibility to do both well. With my own business the peak work load is during the summer months so I allow for holidays during the winter. I also have had to learn to say no, so as not to take on an unrealistic work load. What things do you say no to? The things I say no to generally relate to my business work load. Also I have had to be careful not to take on additional community responsibilities. The church sees that my ministry includes teaching RE at the local primary school as well as involvement with chaplaincy at both the primary and high school. I need to be wise in not taking on too much and I have had to say no to taking on additional responsibilities. Of course the church is gracious and realises that I may not be able to do as much pastoral visitation as a full time Pastor would.
size would warrant. One of the amazing things about a small church is the high rate of involvement of the congregation in the ministry of the church. Perhaps we are held back to some degree because I am bi-vocational but as Ken Grice our Elder says, we punch above our weight. What advice would you give to some-one looking at going â€œbi-vocationalâ€? as a small church Pastor? The most important thing I would advise is to make sure that your spouse is on board with what you propose to do. I do not advise living in the church manse. This would not have worked for my family. (The manse at Albion is next door to the church and shares the same driveway with the church). Nick and Lisa have been married for thirty years. They have two children, both married and one grandson. They worked with Operation Mobilisation for seven years in Pakistan before entering Pastoral Ministry. He was student/associate Pastor at The Hills Christian Family for 6 years during which time he studied at Bible College. They have been at Albion Baptist Church since 2004.
Are there things the church cannot do because you are bi-vocational? For a small congregation we certainly have an impact in the community greater than our
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Small Church, Big Impact by Brandon O’Brien
Book Review by Stan Fetting, Crossover Operations Manager Quite often the apparent divide between large and small churches is highlighted by critical comments about either type church by proponents of their opposite. This was highlighted by the comments made by high profile mega-church leader Andy Stanley, who claimed that people who attended small churches were ‘stinkin selfish’. This was no slip of the tongue. He was passionate about what he was saying and fleshed it out more: “When I hear adults say, ‘I don’t like a big church. I like about 200. I wanna be able to know everybody.’ I say you are so stinkin’ selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids, anybody else’s kids. If you don’t go to a church large enough, where you can have enough middle-schoolers and high-schoolers so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult. Get over it. Find yourself a big ol’ church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people, and grow up and love the local church...” Stanley later apologised for his comments in a Twitter update saying “The negative reaction to the clip from last weekend’s message is entirely justified. Heck, even I was offended by what I said! I apologise.” This sniping across the barricades cuts both ways. In reading other books on the issue of ‘small churches’ I came across plenty of parochial tribalism in favour of small churches and highly critical of large churches. Small Church Big Impact by Brandon O’Brien doesn’t fit into this category. The author was involved in small-church ministry as a student pastor. Instead of using this simply as a stepping-stone for later ministry in larger churches he began to appreciate the virtues of the small church. O’Brien, editor-at-large for Leadership journal, finds a way of celebrating some of the advantages of a ‘strategically small’ church without doing it at the expense of larger churches. The author has included plenty of stories about ‘small’ churches and by way of definition writes that: “I’ve called these churches strategically small not because they are small on purpose (for the most part) but because they recognize that being a smaller congregation has its benefits. More to the point, they are putting those benefits, that hidden potential, to good use. These churches recognize that running a small church as if it were a big one undermines 07 | PRAC AUTUMN 2016
the smaller congregation’s key strengths. In a culture, even a Christian culture, that values size, celebrity, and institutional visibility, these strategically small churches are under reported and underappreciated.” The author considers the hunger in contemporary culture for authenticity and believes that smaller churches are well positioned to cultivate intimate relationships among their congregants. Whilst smaller churches find it hard to compete in the excellence game, authenticity has levelled the playing field. Responding to need is another feature that the author considers is an advantage as it doesn’t require being mediated through special programs and can often have participation from a significant proportion of the church body. He values the unique positioning small churches have to provide a base for mentoring and discipleship using the concept of ‘ministry midwives’: the encouragement into ministry of people within the church who have a combination of gifting, passion and calling. The benefit of a greater lay involvement in ministry is examined as a way of helping more people find a way to serve. O’Brien places mission at the heart of the small church activity recognizing that mission is “not a means of growing the church; mission is the church’s purpose and goal.” O’Brien champions the cause of the intergenerational church, although recognizing that at times this is hard to achieve through lack of people. Smaller churches don’t suffer from the same pressure as larger churches to segment their ministry into age specific groups. He covers the biblical basis for an experience of a worshipping community that is one, with the concept of family now extended beyond our own immediate kin. The book is a not a long read, and for those involved in small church ministry serves as an encouragement and further food for thought. For those ministering in large churches the book is helpful especially for those seeking to maintain intimacy, authenticity and lay involvement. Small Church, Big Impact. Brandon J. O’Brien Ebook Edition 2011, Bethany House Publishers. Stan Fetting is Operations Manager for Crossover. He has pastored two medium sized churches and enjoys any church with a good coffee machine.
This edition of PRAC we’ve focused on the opportunities and challenges facing smaller sized churches for evangelism and discipleship. We’ve...
Published on May 24, 2016
This edition of PRAC we’ve focused on the opportunities and challenges facing smaller sized churches for evangelism and discipleship. We’ve...