Last week, Dr. Bob Kellemen of RPM Ministries posted two articles about megachurches, multi-site churches, and smaller churches. Dr. Kellemen and RPM Ministries are one of my go to resources, thus the presence of his blog on my blogroll. Many moons ago, while he was still teaching at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD (and while I was still living in the DC metro area) I took a class with Dr. Kellemen, and appreciated the man and admired the material. He is currently the executive director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, and serving as an elder of a smaller sized church in Indiana. He has written two posts on the kingdom purpose and kingdom placement of the megachurch, multi-site churches, and the smaller church. The question he asked at the end of his first post was “How can the mega-church with a multi-site vision for kingdom ministry cooperatively support, empower, and partner with like-minded smaller churches in the community?” As the pastor of a smaller church, I commented on his post, and he graciously offered me the opportunity to do a guest post on his blog, which appeared on Monday. I am grateful for the opportunity to share about the smaller church, and specifically the rural smaller church such as those served by Village Missions, as well as to offer suggestions on how the larger church (whether it is big, large, mega, or multi) can partner with the smaller church.
Below is what I wrote, and I do want you to read it. To get a bit of context, I suggest you read Dr. Kellemen’s posts. Here is part one, Multiplying Kingdom Ministry Together and part two, Through the Eyes of the Smaller Church.
How Larger Churches Can Come Alongside Smaller Churches
I am grateful to Dr. Kellemen for the opportunity to guest blog about how larger churches can come alongside smaller churches. The question he initially posed certainly got my attention as the pastor of a small church.
My church background is not one filled with experience in small churches. The church I grew up in Florida had 400 members. I served on a multi-staff church in the metro DC area that averaged over 1,000 on Sunday mornings, prior to moving to another multi-staff church in the Tacoma, WA area that presently averages near 600 at its weekend services.
Now, I am the only staff member of a church where if we get to 30 on a Sunday morning, we are overjoyed! The church I am afforded the privilege of serving is in the deep timber of western Washington, roughly halfway between the Pacific Ocean and the state capital, Olympia. The church building sits at the midway point of 18 miles of paved road, with no other intersecting roads or streets other than logging roads. Along those 18 miles are just over 400 people. The reality is that it is unlikely our church family will grow into a large church.
A little over two years ago, my wife and I joined Village Missions, an organization that seeks to “keep country churches alive.” Village Missions serves over 200 churches in rural North America. They identify and send missionary pastors to rural communities and rural churches. These are churches that are in danger of closing their doors because they are unable to either find someone or pay someone to be their pastor.
From our church building, in most directions, it is 20 miles before you find another church—in some directions it is 30 miles. It is also 20 miles from a grocery store, gas station, post office, coffee shop, or anything else that resembles commerce. Not all Village Missions fields are as isolated as ours. In fact some even more isolated—think certain places in Alaska or Montana.
What many of the churches served by Village Missions have in common is that they are small. Really small. As in, “I’ve had Junior High youth groups bigger than my current church” small. It naturally flows that small churches do not have the resources that larger churches have.
7 Ways Larger and Smaller Churches Can Work Together to Accomplish Kingdom Purposes
I agree with Dr. Kellemen’s suggestions/ideas for how a larger church could serve the smaller church. I want to see larger churches serve smaller churches in order to accomplish kingdom purposes. A tremendous way to serve smaller churches would be to have intentional, ongoing partnerships with larger churches.
Though most of the places Village Missionaries serve are small, out of the way, and don’t always register on Google maps, it may surprise you how close they are to you. We are just 2 hours from Seattle, WA and 2.5 hours from Portland, OR. The relative proximity of larger communities and larger churches makes it possible for there to be meaningful, intentional, kingdom building partnerships between larger churches and smaller ones.
What would the purpose of these partnerships be? What would they accomplish? What would a partnership look like? Truthfully, I don’t know! I’ve not seen it yet. But here are few ways a partnership could work:
• Awareness. Larger churches could become aware of the existence of smaller churches. The pastor of the church I served in the metro DC area actively sought out other pastors/churches in the county. Not all of them were large, growing churches. In fact, many were the exact opposite. But because of him, I knew where those churches were. The pastors of those churches had the same desire to see Christ proclaimed, and those pastors have formed a “band of brothers” that originally began as simple awareness.
• Prayer. Hopefully the awareness would lead to fervent prayer on behalf of small churches. Pray for their pastors to be strengthened and encouraged. Pray for their pastors to preach with passion and urgency. Pray that the small churches would grow. Pray for the small churches efforts in outreach and evangelism. Pray for their financial provision. Pray that the doors stay open.
• Attitude. I confess that when I served on large, multi-staff churches it was easy for me to think of smaller churches as being led by needy, deficient pastors. I thought they were probably guys who just couldn’t hack it in the big leagues. (I’m not proud of having had that attitude by the way). The reality, at least with Village Missionaries, is they all have at least a Bible college education, many with a seminary education. Village Missionaries willfully allow themselves to be placed in small churches, and joyfully accept their assignment. Their churches are not small because of some leadership incapability—they went into a small church because of a lack of leadership.
• Friendship. Some of my closest friends to this day are other pastors and elders I served with at larger churches. We prayed together, served together, played together, worshipped together, rejoiced together. You could be vulnerable with another pastor or ministry leader. Bearing our souls to each other we formed bonds that still exist even though it has been 8 years and 3 years since I served at those churches. Those relationships are harder to find and/or develop in the smaller church. I would ask for pastors of larger churches to befriend pastors of smaller churches. Go out for coffee, go canoeing (sorry, golf seems both cliché and arbitrary), have him and his family to your place for dinner (or go to their home), call him, email him. Pastors find it difficult to develop meaningful friendships—that difficulty is raised exponentially in a smaller church.
• Resources. The suggestions that Dr. Kellemen posted earlier are fantastic, and I agree with them. Let me put one example out there that reflects our current reality. We have no musicians. Not even a kazoo. What we are praying for (other than for my 8-year-old to develop his piano skill at a quicker rate) is for individuals with a gifting in music who are not getting many opportunities to use their talents in the larger church to use them temporarily in our church. We are not in a position to pay for this, so it would need to be someone with a mission, kingdom-building mindset. This would be the body of Christ serving the body of Christ. This does not have to be, and it should not be, a territorial, proprietary battle—it can be an act of edification for both churches.
• Finances. It is pretty basic—the smaller the church, the less finances are available. Perhaps the larger church could adopt a smaller church as a part of its larger missions strategy. Maybe there is a smaller church in the same city, or relatively close by that would benefit from having a larger church make a financial commitment to it. I can’t write about this without my Village Missions glasses on—consider supporting Village Missions, or a specific Village Missionary. Pastors with Village Missions receive a small salary from the organization, but rely on donor support for the balance of their salary to afford them the opportunity to live and serve full time on the field. The church that sent us out supports us generously, and because of that, many of the aspects of partnership are being accomplished: they are aware of the small church, they are praying for us, they have been friends to us. We have been blessed by this relationship even though we are 80 miles from them.
• Leadership. The musician need would be a short-term commitment. But there are longer term needs within the smaller church. Again, I have a distinct Village Missions angle on this one, but it could be adapted for other smaller churches not affiliated with Village Missions. Currently in the US, there are 15 open fields with Village Missions, and 8 in Canada. What that means is that these 23 churches are in a relationship with Village Missions and are waiting for their pastor. Village Missions had to cancel its fall candidate school because, well, there were no candidates. Prayerfully that won’t happen to the spring candidate school. But it is going to take people. If you serve at a larger church, would you ask a couple of your staff members to consider serving in a smaller church? Perhaps ask them to consider serving with Village Missions and support them generously as they do so? If you have a men’s discipleship group, begin to provoke their thinking about serving in full-time ministry—train them up and send them out. When it comes time to plan the next church budget, ask how you can budget in such a way as to equip your people and your church, but also consider the needs of the smaller church. Before hiring another full-time pastor, consider if you might get more fruit, if the kingdom would be better served, by delaying that hire and concentrating that money to help a smaller church. What if your multi-site plan included a site 130 miles away in the midst of cornfields?
A Place in God’s Kingdom
There is a place in God’s kingdom for both the large church and the small church. There are things a large church can do that a small church cannot, and there are things a smaller church can do that a larger church cannot.
And that is just fine. We are not in competition with each other; we are in partnershipwith each other. Both large and small churches want to see Christ exalted, the Bible preached, and lives transformed by the gospel and for the gospel. Both large churches and small churches want to see their churches grow, in numbers and in depth. We are Christ’s body. Let’s see to it that we benefit the members of His body, no matter how large or small.