Lessons for Small Church LeadersSmall Church Leadership

Ministry in small churches and small communities looks different. Unfortunately, most of the books on how to “do ministry” are written by pastors of larger churches in suburban or urban areas. Their ideas are relevant to an extent because the body of Christ is the body of Christ. At the same time, the body of Christ is diverse and it has diverse needs.

As the pastor of a small church in a small community for the last 16 years, I understand some of the unique needs of these churches. I also want to encourage you as you seek to minister in their communities.


I am concerned because a recent report published by Faith Communities Today found that congregations in small towns and rural areas are the least likely to grow. This stands to reason because most small communities have static or limited growth themselves. That said, a good portion of people in your community are not connected to a local church.

If you are a leader or pastor of a small town church, consider the following.

  1. Ministry in a small community has to target a wide spectrum of people simply because there aren’t as many people to reach.
  2. Ministering in a small community requires flexibility, constant evaluation, and a willingness to change because the diversity of ages and needs demand it.
  3. Ministry in a small community should always maintain a sense of urgency to reach the lost. Other good things like church services, visitation, congregational care, church socials, weddings, and funerals will be all consuming and apart from an urgency to share the gospel, reaching the lost will be lost to the tyranny of other demands.
  4. Ministry in a small town requires credibility. Both the church and the pastor have to maintain a high level of credibility or it will affect everything the church stands for and tries to do.
  5. Ministry in a small church or community still requires a clear mission, vision, and strategy. Healthy churches are clear about who they are, why they do the things they do, and what they are going to do to live out the gospel in their community.
  6. Ministry in a small church and community needs to have a particular focus on families and young people. Ministry is always focused on every age and stage. That said, ministry should also focus on raising up Godly young people.. Spiritual birth by Godly parents and grandparents ensures the gospel will continue to be shared generation after generation. The healthiest small church/small community churches I know of always have a strong focus on children, youth and family ministry.
  7. Ministry in a small church emphasizes relationships over tasks. Getting things done always takes second place to doing things together.
  8. Ministry in small churches requires optimism particularly in the area of change. Being willing to try new things even if there’s a chance they will fail encourages risk taking and future successes. It’s hard to celebrate new victories if nothing new if happening.
  9. It’s good for small churches or churches in small communities to know “what makes them different” than every other church in their community and region. Answering the question, “What do we do better than 10,000 other churches?” can motivate ministry and unleash the power of your church. The Holy Spirit uniquely gifts churches with strengths to do ministry in their local setting. What are your unique gifts?
  10. Worship in small churches needs to be inspirational, joyful, encouraging, thoughtful, and full of the presence of God. The music and service elements should be organized and done well. Music can be a blend of styles, done well, and thoughtfully put together.

These things should be true of all ministries:

  1. Ministry needs to be Biblical. In a small community, the one thing that might unite us when other things don’t is the Bible. Certain Bible passages may speak more strongly to us about what unity looks like in a small community because diversity is the norm. The whole church needs to find its motivation for ministry and guidance in life from the Bible.
  2. Churches should also make every meeting a spiritual event by recognizing that the real leader of the church is Jesus. Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father. He is the head of the church. And He is interceding on our behalf.
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