I like big churches. In fact, the only churches I’ve ever attended have been big churches. Most of those churches have been around 100 people.
I guess it’s a matter of perspective. Growing up in rural Newfoundland, I always thought that my church was big, largely because most of the churches in the PAONL are in small, rural communities. On a per-capita basis, those churches were doing very well and reaching a large percentage of their communities. The reality is, even our Movement’s “large” churches would be classified as small or medium sized churches by global standards.
Maybe a part of the “size” illusion for me was that most of the churches I’ve attended have been healthy, so they seemed large. They had programs for families, vibrant worship, were known in their communities for being about their communities, and were always introducing new people to Jesus. For these reasons, I’m a bit obsessed with the idea of healthy small churches. So much that I’ve read eight books on the subject in the past three months.
Today I’m reviewing one of the best ones. To be honest, they were all good. But this one isn’t new or shiny. It doesn’t have a particularly engaging cover. And I don’t want you to overlook it when you’re browsing the shelves, because the subject matter is timeless. It’s called, “Small, Strong Congregations,” by Kennon Callahan.
I also want this review to be valuable for those of you who won’t make the investment and purchase the book, so I’ve broken it into my three favourite quotes on three subjects: Mission, Misconceptions and Members. Because I know your time is valuable, I’ll keep the commentary to a minimum.
- “Mission grows from among the grass roots of the congregation. Three to five people discover their longings to help with a specific human hurt and hope. They discover their competencies to deliver concrete, effective help. They find one another. They become a mission team. They do solid work. They share one excellent mission. They discover new helpers for the mission from among the people being helped” (Callahan 60-61, emphasis mine).
- “Who is our mission?” (Callahan 239).
- “A healthy congregation, at its best, sees its mission as sharing a gift of grace” (Callahan 43).
Jeremy’s Notes: I’ve found this to be true in every healthy church I’ve attended or led. The mission is not a plaque on the wall. It is a specific group of people in the community. And while the pastor might preach vision on Formission, the mission is best pictured by those in the congregation who love their community and live the gospel. Think of any healthy church you know. What are they known for? Probably one great work, known in the community, led by a select group of people, but invested in and celebrated by all.
- “By definition, spaces that are not shared are not sacred. Small, strong congregations know this truth well. We are most creative in sharing what few spaces we have” (Callahan 246).
- “Leaders who do not learn create congregations that do not learn. Leaders who learn create grassroots people who learn” (Callahan 215).
- “The focus in small, strong congregations is on creativity and improvisation, not on complaining and whining” (Callahan 135).
Jeremy’s Notes: Healthy small churches are adaptable and optimistic, and usually led by adaptable, optimistic people. Once your church figures out who the mission is, and begin to see fruit, one natural outcome is greater flexibility. I don’t enjoy change, but my tolerance for change increases dramatically when I begin to see positive results. I thank God for the builders and boomers in the churches I’ve been a part of who brought new health by growing through or leading change despite an adversity to unnecessary boat-rocking.
- “The small, strong congregation is. A high-compassion community, not a high-commitment church” (Callahan 69).
- “The small, strong congregation includes in the family persons served in mission” (Callahan 100).
- “In our time, people join a family, not an organization. People join a congregation, not a denomination. People join a movement, not a committee. They are drawn (sic) to the spirit of a movement more than the structure of an institution” (Callahan 104).
Jeremy’s Notes: Here’s another hypothesis as to why so many of the small churches I’ve been a part of seemed big: Sunday services weren’t the primary metric. Sure, Sunday attendance growth was celebrated, but it took a definite back seat to community engagement. If we had 50 kids in our children’s ministry, that was 50 families who were a part of our church. If we served 300 people at an outreach, that was 300 “guests” who we felt were a part of our family. John Wesley famously remarked, “the world is my parish.” For small strong congregations, the parish is the people who they serve.
Are you a part of a small, strong congregation? Would you like to see your congregation become healthier? I highly recommend that you make the investment and read this book. I have a full 3 pages of terrific quotes that I didn’t have space for in this post, and I wouldn’t want you to miss out.