Thinking Out Loud

September 30, 2010

The Strategically Small Church: Small is the new Mega

Less than 1% of the total number of churches in the U.S. are what are considered mega-churches, yet in book after book, conference after conference, it is those churches and their leaders who are setting the agenda and the criteria for what constitutes success in ministry.

It can be disheartening for smaller churches faced with the impossible task of trying to keep up when the larger ‘successes’ seem to dictate the programming one needs to have, and even the language used to discuss it.

Brandon J. Obrien, an editor at large for Leadership magazine is figuratively spitting into the wind of conventional wisdom with his new book, The Strategically Small Church.

…If we could just silence the experts for a few hours, we might have the time and imagination to begin thinking about our ministries in a new way.  (p. 156)

He gives example after example of small(er) churches which are able to excel in areas such as authenticity, flexibility, training and equipping; not to mention the growing awareness that new priority needs to be placed on inter-generational ministry, something small churches do well.

But probably his best illustration is one of the two only non-church oriented ones he uses: The example of a small west coast newspaper who are gaining readers at a time that print newspaper readership is in rapid decline by simply refusing to publish anything unless their ‘take’ on the story is unique or nobody else is covering it.

This provides a metaphor for how he perceives American churches are tripping over themselves trying to duplicate services, because the perception is that these programs (and, one assumes, attendant staff members) are the measure of success in ministry.

As I finished the book this morning, I couldn’t help but think of next week’s Catalyst Conference in Atlanta.   A quick look at the list of speakers who come from the world of vocational pastoral ministry bears out O’Brien’s hypotheses.   All of the primary speakers represent the largest U.S. churches, and the same is true for tw0-thirds of the breakout group speakers.

An inspiring group of key speakers?   I’m sure they are, but how do you take what you’ve heard and apply it when you’re back home in your church of 100 members?

O’Brien also — and I wish he had fleshed this out a little more — hints that the mega-church pastors and leaders know that the current model has its flaws.     While some things, like worship and drama, happen with great efficiency and excellence in the larger congregations, the lack of inter-generational contact may signal some long-term problems for those who have never learned to integrate with the larger body.

Though it’s not in the text, I love these words from the back cover blurb:  “Blessed are the small.”    Indeed.

The Strategically Small Church is published by Bethany House; 168 pages; $15.99 U.S.

Other excerpts from the book on my other blogs:

Comparing the small church to the small retail store versus the giant big-box store at Christian Book Shop Talk.  (Brandon’s other non-church metaphor.)

A quotation from Bonhoeffer on the pressures placed on the church by “big vision” leaders at Christianity 201.  (Not limited to big church pastors, but also including those with big church aspirations.)



  1. can’t wait to read o’brien’s book, paul. thanx for the review. i am giddy with anticipation.

    Comment by randy morgan — September 30, 2010 @ 10:08 pm

  2. […] *Knowing the stories of the people you’re worshiping with — Is there a theme here?  Check out yesterday’s review of The Strategically Smaller Church. […]

    Pingback by Brian Doerksen’s Live Worship Experience « Thinking Out Loud — October 1, 2010 @ 7:38 am

  3. Actually small is not the new mega because there is nothing new about the fact that more ministry is done in small congregations than in large. Not because there is anything wrong with the megas but because of the sheer numbers of small churches. It has just taken awhile for people like Brandon to point this out in a way that people understood it.

    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

    Comment by Terry Reed — October 8, 2010 @ 9:12 pm

    • Hey, my wife helps me come up with post titles!

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 8, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

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