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Embracing God’s Freedom in Small Churches

For twenty years of vocational ministry, I have witnessed what seems like countless churches getting sucked into a kind of toxic anxiety and fear surrounding institutional survival. This usually manifests itself in several ways. The church may have an obsession with attracting younger members (even if young people increasingly do not live in the surrounding community). Some congregations hire a young pastor thinking that will be the “secret sauce” to get young families. Some churches start new programs or hire extra staff, or do outreach events they can’t really afford to pull off.

Now, outreach is not a bad thing in ministry, but quite often the programing that churches commit to year after year has more to do with festering anxiety stemming from institutional survivalism than a real joy for the gospel, or any measure of effectiveness or impact.

What if it didn’t have to be that way?

Sociologists and cultural anthropologists increasingly observe that some of the top values in the emerging global culture are 1) Authenticity, 2) Community, and 3) Service. What if churches, especially smaller churches – which often have fewer resources, embraced these values in their ministries while staying rooted in biblical practice?

I’m guessing that the deepest spiritual yearning of your neighbors is not a giant easter egg hunt, or a shiny new program that will be the envy of every church in your region. People don’t long with all their hearts for a pastor in skinny-jeans with a soy late in hand.

No. People want something real. Something rooted in relationship. Something that meets real human need.

If you are in small church, hear this – God has already equipped you with everything you need to do powerful ministry in the name of Jesus. Be authentic. Build Community. Serve and love your neighbors. Incredible freedom comes when we realize that vibrant and engaging ministry is about these things, and not butts in pews, money in the bank account, and how nice our building is.

For too long we have used the wrong score-card for ministry, measuring the wrong things as indicators of success. What if instead of measuring how many people attend weekly worship or how much money is in the bank account, we tracked how many people were serving their neighbors, how community was being built, and if we were helping people live authentic lives?

There is powerful freedom in living and ministering out of your values rather than the anxiety of institutional survivalism. What if for every new event calendared this year, churches asked:

  1. How does this event or ministry convey authenticity?

  2. How does this event of ministry build deeper community?

  3. How does this event or ministry serve people’s true needs?

If your church begins regularly asking these kinds of questions, you will likely minister with a greater sense of purpose lowered levels of institutional anxiety. Sounds like freedom to me.

1 “What Doesn’t Kill Us,” Phycology Today, accessed 10/15/17,

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