Guest Post: Lessons Learned in Leading a Small Church

I am frequently asked about leadership in smaller churches. When I write about team development, delegating, and church growth issues, many pastors of smaller churches wonder how it all relates to their situation. That’s why this guest post by Daniel Darling appealed to me. Daniel is Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Hs is also the author of iFaith: Connecting With God in the 21st Century. You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Here are Dan’s thoughts on leading a small church:

As a husband, father, and pastor, I’m a regular consumer of much of what the leadership industry has to offer. But I must confess that as I read helpful blogs and download podcasts from giants like Michael Hyatt and John Maxwell and Andy Stanley, I can start to feel intimidated.

Because they seem to be talking to people who are leading large teams of people in massive organizations that are doing really cool stuff in the world. And then there is me, leading a small church, doing the best we can, but nothing on the level that will attract the attention of Time Magazine.

So is my leadership important? How can I downscale the great leadership wisdom to a smaller context? This is a lesson I’m still learning, but in three years at our small church, here are five lessons I’ve learned:

Just because we’re small doesn’t mean we’re unimportant. Maybe you don’t have time to do a one-hour Bible study session with your worship team, because you’re just hoping that the volunteers who signed up actually show up. But that doesn’t mean that what you are doing on Sunday lacks importance, even if it is not the quality of Willow Creek. God cares as much about what happens on Sunday at your small church as He does in the megachurch down the road.

Strive to be good at a few things and don’t apologize for the ministries you don’t have. This was a huge lesson for me. I’ve often walked into the lobbies of the bigger churches in our area and immediately I begin thinking, We don’t do any of this stuff. We’re not a real church. But my friend Ray Pritchard has always counseled me this way. Do a few things and do them well. I’ve realized that the people who do attend deserve our best and they have come to our church fully realizing we are limited. They know what other, bigger churches have to offer and they still chose us.

Authentic is better than awesome. As a small church, we should work hard to make what we do as professional as it can be, because we do it to the glory of God. But it’s more important to work at being authentic than to work at being awesome. Because when the chips are down and real people need real ministry, they will go to someone they can trust. Even if they aren’t as cool as other pastors in town.

You’re Part of Something Bigger in Town. Your church, big or small, doesn’t represent all God is doing in your community. There are other evangelical churches at work as well. And every church is uniquely gifted and expresses a bit differently. When you realize that God has called you, not to do every kind of ministry and please everyone, but simply to be a part of the work of the larger body of Christ in your area, it will relieve the pressure to perform above the capacity of your calling.

Practice good leadership with your volunteer base. Don’t wait until you have a staff of 100 to begin applying sound leadership principles. Do it with your volunteer base in your small church. Treat them well, like you would treat employees. Think of each member as a vital member of your team, a team entrusted by God to bring the good news of the gospel to your small slice of His creation.

Thanks Dan! Good thoughts!

What do you think? Do you lead in a small church? What unique challenges do you face? What lessons have you learned? 

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16 thoughts on “Guest Post: Lessons Learned in Leading a Small Church

  1. These are excellent lessons that are important for small church leaders to learn. Since others have commented on other points, I would like to point out the importance of #4. In some cases duplication is called for (for example most churches want to have a good children's ministry). But some things you can leave to other churches while you concentrate on the things God has given you to do. Great article!
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

  2. Is anything less than mega small? Good leadership is needed to minister to the needs of any size church. Sound biblical mega churches inspire me, not intimidate me. To hear 'well done" you have to do your best with whatever God has given you, and that's why I thank you for the leadership advice you share!

  3. Great suggestions here. I am on staff at a mega-church and I get to visit other churches frequently. I visited a much smaller church yesterday but was impressed with some of the things they were doing. I even walked away with 2 good ideas for our church. We can always learn something from anyone.
    Twitter: ericspeir

    • Eric, I agree completely. In fact, I've had the reverse effect. I've visited big churches and I concentrate on finding one thing they do well that we can actually do. And amazingly, there are procedures we can do regardless of the size.

  4. #2 is something that I have confronted personally for a while, and am finally "getting over the hill" of it with advice like this. It is often difficult the realize that what is considered smaller is often more "normal" than the larger ministry, in that there are more smaller churches than larger churches. I am now working on finding those fewer things we do well and focusing on making them better in our service for the Lord. Thanks for the helpful post and reminder.

  5. Words like these make me feel like I have a chance when I'm a pastor. Sometimes I feel like evangelicalism cares more about numbers than about solid discipleship. I'm so thankful that our Lord Jesus would leave 99 sheep behind while he went searching for his one lost sheep.

    • Andrew, I know exactly how you're feeling. Sometimes you get to feeling that if you're not on the cutting edge of everything in the church, then you don't matter. But we do have a chance and I learned that simple faithfulness goes a long way.

  6. his second was is huge to me Ron. as the pastor of a small church in a small town, it is easy to feel less that significant when compared to others. at a recent leadership weekend, we tried to list where we excelled and because we didn't come up with 5 we felt like failures. I now see how important it is for me to let them know that we need to focus on what we do and do it well. Great interview! thanks. Look forward to hearing you at Sticks.