Great Small Churches

By Peter Meier   |   August 15, 2019

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathaniel asked Philip, John 1:46.

It was a small town slam. Nazareth in Jesus’ day was a very small town of maybe 100 people. Those who lived there were considered backwards, hill-people. Yet, it was in this small town that the Son of God was raised and from which He established a ministry that would transform the world. From this small beginning, Jesus would call others from similar small beginnings to follow Him.

The town where the Word Made Flesh was born is noted as “small among the clans of Judah,” (Micah 5:2).

From the smallest of seeds, Jesus says, grows a tree in which the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches (Mt 13:32). From a few loaves and fish, Jesus fed thousands (Matthew 15:34). To the servant who was faithful in small matters, the Master speaks words of commendation (Luke 19:17).

While John the Baptist was great, the least in the kingdom is greater than he, Jesus says (Matthew 11:11). What is done for the least of these, is done for Me, Jesus claims (Matthew 25:45).

Do you see a theme developing here?

Are you a person with small beginnings? Is your church the least among your circuit? No need to be discouraged or disappointed. No need to think you have not been faithful or blessed. Why not ask how God can take your humble beginnings and offer you great possibilities to accomplish much for His kingdom?

Sometimes, we make assumptions about small churches (defined here, like Jesus’ hometown, as 100 or less in worship, which is about 80% of churches in the US). We assume that small churches are inward focused… threatened by change… not reaching their communities… poorly managed… settling for less… not missional. And sometimes, one or more of those are true. But there are also plenty of small churches who are missional… friendly… community oriented… innovative… generous… worshipful… making a difference. In a circuit or district that is growing, we will see new churches planted which are almost always going to be small.

Small churches are not better or worse than big churches. They are different. They have different dynamics, different strengths, different resources. The real question is not how small churches should grow bigger. The real question is can small churches be great small churches? If you are a leader in a small church, ask yourself, What can we do with the resources we have now?

Before you answer that question, know that no matter what your size, you can always focus on what God wants His church to be – you can focus on loving others and making disciples (the Great Commandment and the Great Commission).

There is no Biblical mandate for congregations to grow large. But there is a Biblical mandate for disciples to make new disciples. There is a Biblical mandate for Christian people to love their neighbor. These are not optional, nor are they dependent on size.

Acts 2:42-47 shows clearly that Bigger and Better is not the church’s business. The church’s business is being devoted to the apostle’s teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. The church’s business is relationships (enjoying the favor of all the people). Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Jesus builds His church. He takes care of the growth when the church tends to His business. And note that God added those who were being saved, but did not necessarily add them all to one congregation!

How can your small church increase your capacity for greatness? Think in terms of loving people and making disciples. This is not done inside your church building – this is done in your home, in your community relationships, in daily life where you live, work, and play. Equip the saints to do the work of ministry outside the church building, engaged with the community, loving and serving in Jesus’ name.

Basically, your small church whether it’s a new start or over 100 years old, can do great big ministry if you’re doing what God wants – loving God, loving people, teaching the Word and sharing it with others.

In his book, Small Church Essentials, (Moody, 2018), author and intentional small church pastor Karl Vaters suggests that small church leaders ask and answer these questions:

·         What does our church already do well?

·         What can our church really do well?

·         What do we want to be known for?

·         Have we been missing the mark?

·         How can we clear the clutter and focus on what we do well?

He notes, “This is not about gimmicks; this is about mission. What has God called you to do? Why does your church exist? And how can you let people know about it?” (page 139).

God has given His church (both large and small congregations) the biggest greatest vision of all – to make disciples and to love our neighbors.

Every church – small or large – can be the church that way.

For encouragement, tools, and strategies for new or long-time small churches, get Karl’s book, Small Church Essentials, or check out Other suggested reading for encouragement and engagement includes Small Town JESUS (2016), Donnie Griggs, and Small Town Mission (2016) by Aaron Morrow.

The North American Mission Endeavor, NAME (the professional organization of LCMS mission execs and mission organization leaders) welcomes Karl Vater as our keynote speaker at our Fall Conference, November 21-22 in Houston, in conjunction with the LCEF Fall Leadership Conference.

Mission Moments is the e-newsletter sent by the Center for U.S. Missions to bring information and encouragement to all who desire to share God's great love in Jesus Christ with others. Permission is given to copy this article for distribution within your congregation or organization. Please credit the author and the Center for United States Missions. For more information contact the Center at (952)-221-0362, or visit our website:

Center for U.S. Missions – Contact Information 

Email us at: | Rev. Dr. Peter Meier, Executive Director;  | Rev. Eric Wenger, Director of Mission Coaching;| Kathy Meier, Coordinator;  | Mil Behnken, Office Manager;