Though we may understand the characteristics of the small church, ministry is not static, but dynamic. It is not conducted in a sterile test tube isolated from the winds of culture. Instead, we find that the culture in which we live intertwines with the programs we conduct. As a result, the trends that blow across the cultural landscape infiltrate the cracks of the church and affect the ministry and flow of the congregation. Some of these trends are positive, resulting in new opportunities to reach people for Christ. Others undermine the foundation of the church and, if not confronted with a biblical response, assault the stability of the ministry. Still others are neutral, having in themselves no moral or spiritual implications, but radically affect the manner in which the church conducts its ministry.
Perhaps the single most important distinctive of the small church is that it is relationally rather than program driven. There exists within the congregation a family atmosphere where individuals are considered part of a bigger family, where relationships become more important than performance and organization. The small church has a place for everyone and shows concern for everyone. People are counted rather than programs and ministries. Rather than the life of the church revolving around the worship service or the programs, it centers around the relational bonds of the congregation.
This has enormous impact upon how the small church functions and organizes its ministry. Within the small church, it is not the person’s position that gives power and authority to the individual but the relationships the person has with the other members. Consequently, the pastor is often not the primary leader of the congregation. That role is often given to an individual or family, who, by their personal interaction with others, influences the rest of the church.
From Voice, Jul/Aug 2013. Used by permission.
When David arrived at his first pastorate, he was excited about the possibilities. The church was a small church located on the fringe of a large metropolitan area. David had received high marks in his seminary experience and he was well trained for ministry. Before and during seminary he had attended a large, nationally recognized church in one of the major cities of the United States. He had spent six months on staff as an intern in order to get a feel for developing ministries and leading the programs of the church.
However, upon his arrival at the small church he sensed things were vastly different from his large church experience. And after he had been serving as the pastor for several months, David fully realized that the small church functioned with a unique set of characteristics. At first he tried to change them. Following the recommendations of the latest writings on the seeker-sensitive model of ministry, he tried to bring the church up to the 21st century (at least in his estimation). After several frustrating years, he stepped back and decided that perhaps he first needed to understand his people and what they wanted the church to be and do.
He began to do some careful listening and realized that they had the same heart for evangelism, discipleship and worship that he possessed, only they expressed it differently. Rather than try to change them, he decided that he would change his own attitudes and actions. For the first time since his arrival, he accepted them for who they were and how they expressed their faith in Christ.