Strengthening the Smaller Church

Introduction: For the sake of our studies in this series, we will consider the smaller church to be any congregation whose attendance is 100 or below. Over the years I have preached for many such congregations. With the Lord’s help, we grew. If you go back in our church history we find that Jesus had commissioned only 12 men to take the Gospel to the whole world. By the time that first Pentecost after the resurrection was past, the church had grown from just a few to about 3,000 souls.I am not promising that you will be able to grow your congregation from just a handful to about three thousand in such a short time. What we can do is look at the principles for growth of small congregations both in Bible times and in more recent times. We might learn some principles that will make be beneficial in getting the smaller congregations to grow.

The only way that a congregation of any size will grow is if you have a spirit of evangelism that permeates throughout it. Everything that you do must have some sort of an evangelistic thrust connected with it. When the early church met together to praise God, they also used it as a time for evangelism. When Paul & Silas were in prison in Philippi, they were able to use that time as an evangelistic opportunity to convert the very jailer who had kept them locked up – Acts 16. And when persecution came upon the early church, the brethren took the Gospel with them as they fled for their very lives, and shared it with those with whom they came into contact – Acts 8:4. The early church made use of every opportunity to share the Gospel of Christ with those with whom they came into contact.

Sometimes one of the best things that can be done to help a smaller congregation to grow is to have a “work day” around the church building. If the building and grounds are cluttered, untidy, or in need of painting and repair, that will be a turn off to those who might otherwise visit. If the visitor comes inside and sees clutter, dust, and cobwebs everywhere, that may cause him/her to not return. It is not that our church buildings and church property are to be shrines, but sometimes that first impression that our visitors have of our buildings and property make a lasting impression on them. When they see your church building or church grounds, what sort of impression do they get of the people who worship there?

Lest we base too much on the physical externals, let me say that there are congregations whose meeting place is less than exceptional, but the congregation is still growing. They have put into practice some simple principles that make people ‘want’ to be there and ‘happy’ to be there, even if the facilities are not immaculate. We must have such a sweet fellowship that people who visit us will have that desire to be part of the group. A congregation that has a lot of bickering, fighting, and backbiting, indeed is NOT a group that is attractive to outsiders. Again, we see that this all comes down to a matter of choice. What kind of group do we choose to be? Sweet and harmonious or unfriendly and bitter? We get to choose. Like it or not, our visitors will be able to tell what kind of group we are when the meet with us.

In order to have a good chance for church growth, the smaller congregation must have a leadership that is both Christ centered and soul conscious. They need to realize that without divine help, the church will not grow. They also need to realize that God has put certain people within their sphere of life that they may be able to reach with the Gospel. They need to turn an opportunity in to a Bible study; a religious interest in to a conversion. That takes leadership. It takes a leadership who has more than just an understanding of the past at that local congregation…they must also have a vision of the future. Proverbs 29:18a tells us that, “Where there is no vision, the people perish:.” If the leaders of a local congregation are not men of vision, the church probably won’t ever grow. You have to have a vision to see beyond the handful of members you currently have. You have to have a vision to see your building full to overflowing. Your vision must include having more people to teach, more men to become elders and deacons, more room to expand the auditorium and parking lot when the current facilities become too crowded. The leadership must be men of such vision and character that they realize that they don’t have all of the answers and they are willing to rely on God’s guidance and information from others who have gone through the process of growing to get insights into some things that might be done.

Now lest you think that a congregation that has good growth will help it to outgrow having some problems from within, just remember that in Acts 6, after the church grew, that people began to grumble and complain because the Grecian widows had been overlooked in the daily distribution. I want to let you in on a little secret. Big churches have just as many problems as little churches do..and sometimes more and of different varieties.

Not only do the leaders of the local church have to be involved in trying to grow the church, each and every member must be interested as well. In one congregation that I once visited, I saw a chart on the wall showing the responsibilities that each member had to do each week. I asked how they were able to get everyone to work at something. I was told that if each member didn’t do something, it wouldn’t get done. Therein lies a key to church growth. You need to find a job for everyone to do, then get them to do it well. When you do that you will not have just a handful of workers, but the pews will be filled with those who are willing and able to do their work for the Lord. Someone once said, “You need to plan the work, then work the plan.” Another person said that you have to work like it all depends on you and pray like it all depends on God.”

Throughout my years of preaching and teaching the Bible, I found that most people would be friendly as you discussed religion with them. The hardest thing for me was to make that initial contact with them. Once they knew that I was coming to their home to sit down and discuss Biblical things, it went pretty well. You need to find the tools of evangelism that work best for you. What works for someone else may not be your style. Also, realize that a method of evangelism that works in one area of the country may not work at all in a different area. There are many different things that you can do to be a personal worker in the area of evangelism. You may have your Bible marked with certain passages of Scripture that you can use to teach the lost. You may have some sort of printed lesson, or a tract that you go through with the prospect. Perhaps you want to use something like the Jule Miller evangelism videos. They do all the talking. You can answer questions the person by have after the video has been shown. Find a method that works for you, then hone your skills to improve your method. Time and plenty of patience will pay off here.

Over the years there have been several really good programs that have helped smaller congregations to grow. A good VBS will get names for the church to contact. Follow up on the kids and then try to work back through their parents to get Bible studies set up. Some congregations do a really great job with VBS and they have a good crowd. Others have only minimal success. Chances are that the kids in any area are all involved in marching band, baseball, softball, soccer, etc., that will be competing against you for the kids’ attendance. Rather than butting your heads together, try to schedule the VBS to where it will cause the least problems for both the children and for the adults who will be teaching it. We have even had kids come to VBS with their ball uniforms on so that they could leave early, or maybe they came from practice and were a little late. We would rather have them there in uniform for part of the time to get at least a little teaching, than to not have them there at all.

Another thing that is coming back is the Gospel Meeting. At one time these were called “protracted meetings” and the preacher would promise to preach another night, or another week, until either everyone there had been baptized, or until the crowds began to dwindle. Sometimes these would go on for as long as a month to six weeks or longer. They were very effective, but that was before all of our electronic distractions. Then the Gospel Meeting was lowered to only two weeks, then one week, and finally we find that if there is any Gospel Meeting at all, there are only 3 or 4 nights for it. Everyone (including our church people) is too busy to give more of their time to the Lord than that. Rather than fighting it, you have to learn to work around others schedules as best you can. Gospel meetings are beginning to come back into prominence as an evangelism tool. They may get the prospect to at least have some questions to ask after having heard a sermon or two.

Christian camping is another tool of the church that the smaller church should encourage. Some kids in rural communities never have an opportunity to get away from home in a safe, structured environment. Christian camping programs, if they are properly done, can be a great tool to reach the various ages of youth that would be involved. Sometimes being away from all of the electronic gadgets that consume so much of our time can give the young person an opportunity to not only enjoy nature that God created, but also that opportunity to have a time of spiritual growth in their own life and find God’s will for them. Christian camping was originally started to find young people who were interested in going into some sort of full-time Christian ministry or work. There are still a few Christian summer camps that cater to having young men become preachers and the camps teach them some preaching skills.

Since we ended that last section mentioning preaching, let us go to the preacher of the local church. In order for a congregation to grow, not only does it need evangelism minded elders, deacons, and Bible class teachers, but it also needs an evangelism minded preacher, too. What he says from the pulpit can make or break all of the other good evangelism work that you are trying to do. Visitors consider him the spokesman for the church, the one speaking the oracles of God. If the pulpit man is not preaching and teaching about the need for evangelism and that everyone should try to be a soul winner, the work will be less than effective. What is more, the best way that a preacher can help those sitting in the pew to be effective soul-winners is for him to be an example of being a soul-winner, himself. Every member needs to be soul-conscious. We must be looking for ways in which we can share our faith with others.

There needs to be visibility in the community. You need to have a good sign out front of your meeting house telling what services are at what times. If you change your time of service, be sure to change the signs. In some communities, the people don’t know the congregation is even there. The congregation is the best kept secret in town. If you are off the main road, get permission to put signs on the main road telling where the meeting house is located. Do some advertising in the local newspaper, the yellow pages, the T.V. or radio. (if those are available to you) Offer Free Bible Correspondence courses through the local newspaper ads. Let the public know that the church is alive and well in your area. Advertise any sort of special event that you are having.sometimes if it is written as a news article, the local paper may put it in for free. Get to be friends with the people at the local radio station and newspaper office.

Especially in a small church perhaps in a rural area, all of these methods and more will need to be applied to have church growth.

Once you begin to grow and new souls are brought in, you will notice that success begets success. I have had people tell me that after one that they had studied with was baptized that they were looking for the next person with whom they could study. I used to have my list of “Ten Most Wanted”, that were people that I would pray for and try to get Bible studies set up with them.

In order for a congregation of whatever size to grow, there must be a consciousness of lost souls. Without the Gospel they will be eternally lost. We must seek to find new methods of taking the Gospel to the lost.