5 Fallacies About Small Churches

A fallacy is most simply defined as a “mistaken belief”. People today believe many things mistakenly about small churches. Here are just a few fallacies that I often hear about small churches.

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1. They are unhealthy.

Many small churches are unhealthy. Many large churches are unhealthy. Church health cannot be measured by numbers but by love for God and obedience to God. Some might assume that all small churches are small because something is wrong with them or because they have an unhealthy atmosphere or an unhealthy pastor. There are many things that can make a church unhealthy but some of the healthiest churches I have encountered in my life have been small vibrant communities of God loving, gospel centered people.

2. They are unhappy about their size.

With the rapid growth in the number of large churches, most people who remain at small churches are there for a reason. Though it may seem foreign to some, many small churches want to see growth, life transformation, more baptisms and conversions, but they don’t want to be large churches. They want to know everyone in their church. They want to notice new people and welcome them into the family. They want to actually share life together as a community. Of course small churches want to grow and see more people attend their church, but for a variety of reasons the members of small churches want to be at a small church.

3. They are unbending.

Though it is true that many small churches refuse to change or adapt and therefore refuse to make an impact, this is a common myth about small churches. Many small churches are trying desperately to make an impact on their communities. They are willing to try new things, make changes, and follow God obediently into the future. It is not easy to usher in changes in any church, especially small churches, but not all small churches are unbending or unwilling to adapt for the sake of gospel ministry.

4. They are unconcerned with making disciples.

Some churches remain small because they have little to no outreach effort or don’t much care for being uncomfortable. But most small churches are just as focused on disciple making and gospel proclamation as any other church. Many small churches simply do not have the resources or personnel to do the sorts of things that the majority of our American church culture has come to expect from churches. Almost all small church pastors that I know are the kind of people who lie awake at night praying and trying to think of ways to make disciples through their church community.

5. They are underdogs.

I have spent the last few years of my life immersed in the world of Chicago area church planting. One of the truths that I often hear is that small churches, primarily church plants (new churches), are more effective at winning lost people over to Christ. One study suggests that small churches are 16x more effective at making new disciples than large churches. Small churches produce more new believers, more new pastors, and more new churches than large churches do. In his little church planting manifesto, Tim Keller says, “Dozens of studies confirm that the average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshipping body, while churches over 10-15 years of age gain 80-90% of new members by transfer from other congregations.” Though many large churches are just as effective at making new disciples, studies prove that new, small churches are much more likely to reach the lost. Small churches are not underdogs.

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What else would you add? What has been your experience, for better or for worse, at small churches?

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Why You Shouldn’t Expect Your Pastor To Do Everything

Most churches expect their pastor to do it all. This problem is one of the major contributing factors to pastor burnout and therefore church burnout. One of the reason’s that the apostle Paul wrote so much about church leadership, false teachers, and leadership qualifications is because he understood that churches cannot be healthy unless their leaders are healthy. I believe that one of the reasons there are so many spiritually unhealthy, dying churches in our nation is because there are so many spiritually unhealthy, dying pastors. And part of the reason there are so many spiritually unhealthy, dying pastors is because of the unrealistic and even dangerous expectations that most churches place upon the shoulders of their pastors. Here are some scary stats (from H.B. London’s book “Pastors at Greater Risk”):

  • 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
  • 70% don’t have any close friends.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.

Having just completed my first 5 years in church ministry, these numbers are especially disturbing and quite personal. Not only have I felt the sting of most of these statistics already, I have also felt and witnessed how unrealistic expectations of pastors has been the leading cause of many of them. Here are a few reasons you shouldn’t expect your pastor to do it all.

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1. They aren’t capable of doing it all.

Very few pastors are capable of doing everything that their churches expect of them. Every pastor is gifted differently and to expect a pastor to be excellent at everything is unreasonable. Not every pastor can deliver a killer sermon every week. Not every pastor can visit every single person in the hospital. Not every pastor can be at every single meeting throughout the week. Not every pastor has strong administrative skills. No pastor is capable of doing everything well. Even Moses, who was the spiritual, political, social, and military leader of Israel quickly realized he couldn’t do it all himself. He needed Aaron  to speak for him and he needed willing and able men to help him accomplish the tasks before him. In Exodus 18:18, Jethro tells Moses, “You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.” This is still true of pastors today. No one is capable of carrying the entire load of your church – so stop expecting your pastor to do so.

2. It isn’t their job to do it all.

Your pastor’s primary job is to preach, teach, pray, exhort, and shepherd the congregation. The early church in Acts 6 quickly realized that the spiritual leaders were not able to do everything so they appointed the first deacons to serve the congregation while the preachers and teachers remained focused on prayer and preaching the gospel. Churches have deacons, trustees, and other lay leaders to help them share the burden. Learn who charge of what and don’t bother your pastor with things that you can take care of yourself or that the other lay leaders can take care of. According to Acts, it isn’t your pastor’s job to do it all, so stop expecting them to.

3. Their job is to lead and train people for ministry, not do all the ministry themselves.

In Ephesians 4, Paul writes that the “apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers“, in other words the pastors and ministry leaders, were not asked to do all of the ministry themselves, but were asked “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ“. If you’re upset about the lack of discipleship your pastor is doing, the lack of teaching he is doing, the lack of hospital visits he is doing, maybe you should try going to your pastor and instead of berating him, ask him to train and equip YOU to be doing more of those things to build up the church. Your pastor’s job is to lead the charge and set the tone, not to do it all themselves.

4. Overworked, under appreciated pastors are put in a dangerous place.

As the stats above indicate, overworked pastors often end up in dangerous spiritual and emotional places. Though I think many pastors would agree that being supported and appreciated helps lighten the effects of being overworked, it is often not enough if the expectations remain too high. Not only will your pastor and his family be put in danger if they are overworked and under appreciated, but your entire church will be put in danger. There are countless stories of church collapses and downfalls. Many of these begin with the collapse and downfalls of their pastors. And many of these downfalls began because those pastors were overworked, under appreciated, and unable to deal healthily with the burden of unrealistic expectations. As a result, since they are still sinful human beings, they turned to unhealthy avenues for the comfort, rest, support, joy, or satisfaction that they should be receiving from the church. If your church’s expectations of your pastor are too high, it is only a matter of time before something bad happens in your pastor’s life and in your church’s life.

5. There is a finite number of people we can truly know.

This point applies not only to pastors, but to all people – especially in a church context. However you feel about well-known author Malcolm Gladwell, his writing is fascinating and has much to offer church leaders and church members. In his book, “The Tipping Point” Gladwell discusses anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s research on social relationships. He suggests that the average person can only share in deep, intimate relationship with 12 people (p. 176) and that the number of people that the average person can share in normal, social relationship with comes out to 147.8, or about 150 people (p. 179). Whether or not these exact numbers are accurate, the point remains the same – all of us have a finite number of people with whom we can share close, personal relationship. We can have about 12 very close relationships, and about 150 acquaintance-level relationships where we know each other, know about each other, and would consider ourselves friends.

Most churches probably expect their pastors to know everything about everyone. Not only that, they probably expect them to care deeply about every single thing that every single church member and their extended family are going through. Pastors are no exception to the limits of social relationships. While they do care and they try to remember, it is unrealistic to expect your pastor to have 150 close, intimate relationships when is only emotionally able to sustain fraction of that. And it is unrealistic to expect your pastor to know everything and care deeply about your congregation of 400 when he is probably only capable of doing so for less than half that. Cut your pastor some slack – it is unhealthy and unfair of you to expect him to remember and care about every single thing going on in every single person’s life.

But…

Though all of this is true, pastors also have a responsibility to guard themselves and their families, to learn how to say no to things, to rest and rejuvenate, to work hard to know and love their flock, and so on. The fact is most churches have unrealistic expectations for their pastors, but it is the pastor’s job to fight through the tough times and shepherd the congregation through adversity. Churches, please have realistic and fair expectations of your pastors – if you don’t, both your pastor and your church could suffer greatly. Pastors, please stay faithful and true to your congregation no matter the circumstances. Be strong and courageous and lead your people closer to the Lord.

 

What do you think about this? Have you ever experienced pastor burnout, either as a pastor or a church member? Do you think churches expect too much from their pastors? Please respectfully share your thoughts in the comment section below.

 

 

6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Leave Your Church

There are a lot of good reasons for you to leave your current church. There are also a lot bad reasons for you to leave your current church. The fact is that if your church life isn’t messy and complicated then you aren’t doing it right. However, another fact is that if your church life isn’t refreshing and wonderful then you aren’t doing it right. This is how relationships work and your relationship with your church is no different. Like any relationship there will be seasons of pure joy, seasons of pure frustration, and seasons where everything seems pretty balanced.

Unfortunately, it’s the seasons of pure frustration that tend to drive people away from their churches, just like, unfortunately, people are often driven away from their spouses. But part of being in community together includes a commitment to one another through thick and thin, especially through the most frustrating times. To give up and leave your church when it gets difficult or messy is the easy thing to do, but that doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do.

It can be difficult to discern whether or not God is actually asking you to leave your church. Maybe you have wrestled with this before or are currently wrestling with it now. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you leave your church that I hope will help you sort through the mess and be able to discern what God is really asking of you.

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1. Will I be able to walk with God closer and know him better if I leave?

This should be one of, if not the primary question in your mind as you are thinking about leaving your church. Nothing in this life matters more than your relationship with God. Nothing. Not even your relationship with your church. If you can say with confidence that you will be able to grow deeper in your relationship with God at another place, then it is possible God is asking you to leave. However, this should not be a license to leave just because you are struggling to grow. Most of the time the inability to grow spiritually lies within us, not within our church. If you are a true Christian but aren’t growing closer to God, then it is most likely your fault. If anything, the lack of growth in your life should drive you deeper into the Christian community that you already have in your home church, rather than away from it to seek it somewhere else. Before you abandon your church, think deeply about the answer to this question.

2. Would Jesus be pleased with my reasons for leaving?

“Well, I don’t get along with someone there Jesus, so I’m going to leave.” Jesus responds with Matthew 5:23-26.

“Well, I’ve been hurt by someone there so I’m going to leave.” Jesus responds with Matthew 6:15.

“Well, its just too heavy of a load to deal with all the struggles there, so I’m going to leave.” Jesus responds with Galatians 6:2.

“Well, I’m just really not getting what I need from that church, so I’m going to leave.” Jesus responds with Philippians 2:3-4.

I could keep going but I think you get the point. Most of the reasons that I hear from people leaving their church are not reasons that Jesus that would be happy about. When you enter into relationship with someone, or with a church, you have to take the good and the bad. No person is perfect and no church is perfect. If you are thinking about leaving your church because it isn’t perfect, search the Scriptures to see how Jesus would respond to finding out your reasons for leaving.

3. Have I done everything in my power to make things better?

Whether you are frustrated with the pastor, a specific person, a specific group of people, or something specific about the church as a whole – it would be childish and immature for you to leave if you have not done everything in your power to make it better. It does no good to whine about a problem or give up and leave if you have not offered a solution. More often than not, God puts frustration in our lives so that we can become sanctified and help sanctify those around us. Don’t allow your frustration to drive you to abandonment, let your frustration drive you to become more like Christ and help those you are frustrated with become more like Christ in the process.

4. Have I talked to church leadership about my frustrations?

Your pastors and other church leaders are probably frustrated by many of the same things you are. In fact, they are probably looking for people who feel the same way to help lead the charge to improve the situation. Even if your frustration is with the church leadership, you need to have the courage to express your frustrations to them and engage in a dialogue. By doing so, even if you decide to leave in the end, the church will be better off. Please don’t just leave your church without talking to your church leaders or at least explaining why.

5. Am I leaving to leave, or leaving because God has called me elsewhere?

God rarely, if ever, calls people away from something unless he is calling them to something else specific. When God called Abram away from his home and the only life he had ever known, he wasn’t just calling him away from Haran, he was calling him to Canaan (Genesis 12). When God called Paul away from his plans to preach in Asia, he also called him to preach in Macedonia (Acts 16). Don’t leave your church just to get out. If God is calling you to leave, he is most likely calling you specifically to another community of believers. Make sure you aren’t leaving just to be somewhere else.

6. Will I be moving to another church, or to the couch?

Whatever your reasons for wanting to leave your church, one thing is certain – you are not better off on the couch at home. If you are going to leave your church, make sure you are getting involved in another gospel centered, Bible believing congregation. Too many people leave their church and never join another one. Similar to question 5, make sure that you have a plan to get involved in another church before you leave your current church.

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Please don’t leave your church without asking yourself these questions, or questions like these. There is too much church shuffling going on in our churches these days and it is not healthy for the people or for the churches.

What thoughts do you have on this topic? What other questions would add to the list?