I am often asked when I lead conferences, “What do you think is the future of the small church?”
My consistent response has been that I think we will see the number of smaller churches increase in the coming years.
The medium-size congregations, by contrast, will struggle most, as they will be forced to offer many of the same programs larger churches offer or they will see their people leaving for those larger churches.
This will create financial challenges for these congregations, especially those carrying debt.
Some of the financial problems will be the result of people leaving, but some of it will be due to increased staffing and programming costs as they attempted to compete with the larger churches.
I sense it is going to be a difficult time to be a medium-size church in the U.S. in the next couple of decades. I believe that some large mega-churches also will find themselves in trouble.
Many of these churches continue to be led by their founders and a few have seen the leadership baton passed on to new leaders. While some made that transition very smoothly, others did not.
As more of these founding leaders transition out of their roles, it will be very interesting to see how these churches do. Based on what I have seen, it appears some may struggle to continue the growth they’ve enjoyed in the past.
Smaller churches are able to avoid many of these problems. While many complain about a lack of finances, the reality is that most are in good financial condition.
Many of them have no debt. Increasing numbers of them are calling bivocational leadership and reducing the amount of money they must pay for salary and benefits.
While most small churches dream of seeing their finances improve, the reality is that they are less susceptible to financial setbacks than many of the larger churches.
Property taxes are minimal on most small churches. Yet, if the taxes were more than the church could handle, the congregations could walk away from the property and begin to meet in houses.
Anything a church of 50 people can do in a church building they can do by meeting in one or two homes. If they have no debt on the property, there is no reason they could not sell the property and walk away from it.
Emotionally, it would be hard, but it could be done. This could provide them with funds with which they could provide new ministries in their communities.
Smaller churches don’t have to depend on putting on a great show every week to attract people.
I am not against having a meaningful worship service that incorporates different elements. However, in some larger churches the focus is on the program.
The problem with having a spectacle program is that you run into the danger of having to make the next one just a little bigger until eventually it’s all about the show.
Smaller churches can be more focused on the teaching from the Scriptures and building relationships with people.
Smaller churches are often criticized for being unwilling to change, but if change is presented correctly, they will change and can often do so quicker than a larger church. It’s much easier to turn around a bass boat than an aircraft carrier.
The larger the bureaucracy, the longer it takes to implement change. As things continue to change faster and faster in the 21st century, it will become more important for churches to be able to make needed changes quicker as well.
For these reasons and more, I think the future of smaller churches is very good. Yes, some will close their doors, but that’s because they have lost their vision for ministry, their purpose for existence.
For those who continually seek how God would have them serve their communities, I believe the future looks bright.
If you are blessed to lead one of these churches, rejoice and see what great things God wants to do in and through you and your church.
Dennis Bickers served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years before accepting his current position as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. He blogs at Bivocational Ministry, where a version of this article first appeared. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.
Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years followed by a 14-year ministry as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky.