The Mega-church model runs from the top down. Paid staff create and execute “programs” for the congregation who behave much like spectators. The pressure is on to create and maintain as many programs or ministries as needed to cover every segment of the demographic. Much money and manpower is required to be all things to all people. In the end the pews are filled with people, but are they just sitting there? Are the individual Christians growing? That is the question. Is a large building and masses of people the true measure of a church's success? If this is the measure of success, why then are so few churches succeeding, since less than one half of one percent of all churches in America have congregations over two thousand?
One problem Brandon sees is that, most churches look at other churches as competition rather than fellow workers for the kingdom of God. Every church feels it must offer every program, just as the mega-churches do, to “win” people to their church. All needs and ministries must be met at one place, since most feel theirs is the only place. This creates a burden that bears heavy on small churches that have limited resources. How can they compete?
The author challenges small churches to quit competing, and instead look to see how they can meet specific needs for the kingdom. There are so many churches in America, must each and everyone have every single strength. Shouldn't some excel in one area and yet another in a differing area? By embracing a church’s unique strengths, as opposed to only focusing on what it may lack, its work will be much more beneficial to the kingdom of God. So much more can be accomplished by acknowledging and utilizing the gifts God has given to a particular church as opposed to always seeking those things that appear to be lacking.
So what are some of the strengths that the small church can utilize? This book explains five that smaller churches have to their advantage: The ability to be authentic, nimble (lean), equipping, inter-generational, and productive in training.
The one thing today’s generation values above all else is authenticity. They can spot a phony a mile away. They have grown up with media and marketing trying to create and supply their every desire and have come to treat all things polished and shiny with skepticism. They don’t want a performance. They want real life.
This is good news for small churches. No longer do you have to dream of having a charismatic pastor to lure people in with multimedia presentations, housed in over-sized buildings. This isn’t what they want. They want to worship and develop relationships with real people, struggling to live out real faith. They don’t want programs that promise to answer all their questions and solve everything in ten steps. They know that doesn’t work and never has. The best thing a small church with limited resources can do is to quit trying to be some thing you’re not and just be yourselves.
If there is any thing that today’s economy has taught us, it is the value of a lean operation. How many programs does a church need to run? Do you need to have separate ministries for men, women, singles, young adults, married couples, divorcees, seniors, and so on and so on? How much of your resources (money and manpower), are spent trying to maintain all of these? Small churches should acknowledge their size and embrace, rather than regret it. What programs can be cut away? What can be combined? What are other churches doing and doing well? Why not utilize their gifts and strengths, rather than competing against them? Is there a special need that your church is equipped to minister to that other churches aren’t meeting? Why not focus on that need for God’s kingdom. Your church may not become the one stop you’ve always dreamed of, but think of the gain for the kingdom.
One of the biggest problems with the mega-church model is that everything runs from the top down, just like a corporation. Everything must be controlled and regulated by the management. Programs are created and enforced on those under them. This leads to the problem of the congregation becoming spectators, just sitting and watching the show the staff performs.
A more productive way to increase individual growth and involvement, is to equip the members to create their own ministries according to their gifts and passions. This also flows right along with the idea of being lean. Rather than imposing the programs that you think need to run, allow ideas to blossom from the ground up. When programs sprout from the congregation themselves, there tends to be much more enthusiasm and participation. This also relieves the burden of added responsibilities on the pastor or the need for additional paid staff that the small church is unable to afford.
One of the biggest problems plaguing our society today is the breakdown of the family. Millions are growing up or have grown up without the security and nurturing environment of a traditional family. This lack has many effects on the lives of these individuals. They have a need for the belonging and the maturity that results from having relationships with those of differing ages and “positions.” This is a need that can and should be met by the church family. Unfortunately the norm for today's churches is to fully separate everyone out into specific programs or ministries. Children are sorted into age appropriate classes. Teens, young adults, and college students are broken off into their own groups. Adults are sorted by sex, marital status, whether or not they have children, and a host of other categories. While there are benefits in teaching in specific classes, there is also a loss in church family interaction. Small churches who may not be able to provide all these ministries, have the benefit of having members of differing maturity being an example to and teaching one another. The young men can look up to the older as well as the older women teaching the younger. By having more inter-generational ministries, the church family can function and grow just as a family grows, creating the environment that so many have been deprived of.
The one area the small church can truly make a difference in, is leadership training. While mega- and wanna-be mega-ministries are only concerned with perfecting their “management” to grow their church larger, the small church can focus on raising up new leaders to continue the ministry or to start new churches of their own. Rather than focusing on how many people we pull in, we can recognize how many we send out. It all comes back to the idea of growing the kingdom and not just our church. The author repeatedly stresses the value of developing leaders. More pastors in more places, it only makes sense if we want to reach more of the lost.
I really enjoyed reading The Strategically Small Church. The book brings to light many issues and methods that are so often overlooked or just taken for granted. The mega- mentality is so persuasive that we don't often realize how much sway it has over us. Brandon O 'Brien challenges us to view our work in light of kingdom growth, rather than just our church. While this method may not lead to prestige and large buildings, it may lead to an even greater reward – To hear our Lord say, ”Well done thou good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25:21)
I'd like to thank Bethany House Publishers for sending me this free copy for review.