Have you ever struggled with your identity and significance as it relates to numbers of people, size of your building or the size of your budget? Whether you are in business, ministry or some other vocation, how people measure success is usually related to outward performance. What if there is another way?
There are not many books specifically for pastors of small churches, but honestly, regardless of the size of your church, this book will help you think about success from a different angle. Drawing from years of experience in small churches, author Karl Vaters brings a new and refreshing perspective on why small is good. His book, The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking that Divides Us, was one of the more refreshing church leadership books I’ve read in recent years, simply because it meets you where you are. Here is the premise of The Grasshopper Myth (taken from the book),
Definition: The false impression that our Small Church ministry is less than what God says it is because we compare ourselves with others.
Origin: The Hebrews at the edge of the Promised Land.
All the people we saw there are of great size. …We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them. (Numbers 13:32-33)
Symptoms: Lack of vision, faith, courage, effectiveness and freedom.
Prognosis: A lifetime of wandering, whining, and placing blame. And yes, it is contagious.
Treatment: There’s a New Small Church in town – a place of hope and healing.
We’ve discovered the benefits of thinking small. And it’s got nothing to do with small thinking.
We’ve come to realize our small size in not a problem to be fixed, but a strategic advantage God wants to use.
We’re heading out with vision, faith and courage into the places God wants us to go. Places giants cannot tread.
Does Small = Broken?
You hear it at every conference, you read about it in almost every leadership book, and it’s usually one of the first questions you are asked when people find out you are a pastor. Can you guess what it is? How big is your church? In the Western Church, many would have you believe that large healthy and successful, but is that always true? I’ve written about this in a previous blog There are No Small Leaders, Only Leaders.
So what defines a small church and just how many are there? According to Carl F. George, “At the 100 mark, your church has become larger than 60% of your peers. 93% of churches are small (under 350) and 80% of churches are very small (under 200).[i] Mr. Vaters goes on to ask a probing question,
If size equals success then 93% of pastors are unsuccessful while 80% are very bad at their jobs. Can that be right?
The answer of course is no. Mr. Vaters goes on to say,
There are more than 2.2 billion Christians in the world. Almost 1/3 of the world’s population. 100-150 million attend mega-churches. That is something to thank God for. But over half the Christians on earth are involved in churches with less than 250 people in them, which, when you do some basic math, leads to this astonishing conclusion,
More than one billion people choose to worship God in small churches.[ii]
Are these 1 billion people worshiping at small churches simply because they can’t find a big one or could there be other reasons for this? Here are a few reasons why so many people love small churches:
- Your pastor knows your name
- There is personal care
- There is relational intimacy and accountability
- There are more real (and sometimes awkward) moments
- You don’t have to be an expert to serve in visible roles
- There is permission to make mistakes
My Top Takeaways
Here are some of my top takeaways from the The Grasshopper Myth:
- Many pastors are not called to manage systems but to pastor people.
- If you are a small church, stop thinking like a big church.
- Don’t despise your size. If you don’t have a reason to despise your small size, you have no reason to despise their large size.
- Small ≠ broken. You don’t need to find a solution to something that isn’t a problem. We don’t need someone to fix us.
- Big change often starts with small churches.
- Find what you can do that nobody else is doing and do it!
- Loving God and loving others is not a church growth strategy. It’s the mission of every gospel believing church, regardless of size.
- When we minister to the people we’ve got and to the people around us, we aren’t selfish or settling. We are caring for people.
- We should measure success not merely by the size of our church but also by the depth and quality of spiritual growth in people’s lives. (David Kinnaman, UNChristian)
- There is no place on earth where a small church won’t fit.
- Myth: Just like the fruit of a healthy tree is other trees, the fruit of a healthy church is other churches. Truth: Not every church is called to formally plant other churches. Unlike the tree-producing-a-tree-metaphor, the tree-producing-fruit-metaphor is in the Bible.
Finally, I love Vaters’ observation about growth. He said, “We need to stop using numerical growth as the primary indicator of success in ministry and start looking at health as the primary indicator of success in ministry.”
Not only do I recommend this book for pastors of small churches, I recommend this book for pastors of any size church as well as every congregant. This book will help pastors of small churches find freedom from unbiblical and destructive thinking that keeps them from enjoying and finding validity in the ministry that God has called them to steward. It will also help pastors of midsize and large churches gain a fresh perspective on what it feels like to be the pastor of a small church and how to better work together to bring the kingdom to a city or a region. After all, the spiritual landscape of a city is a fabric made up of many different churches.
You can order The Grasshopper Myth here.
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[i] George, Carl F., The Grasshopper Myth, p. 41
*Picture from David Graham via Flickr