The Next Big Thing?

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Why small churches may just be it!

With the rise of the Millennial generation and the coming of what looks like a long economic downturn, thinkers in the field of church planning are beginning to write about the future of the local church and what it will soon look like. There’s not agreement on all predictions, but one thing has common agreement: the day of the mega-church model as the predominate driving force among church growth experts has passed. Here are three reasons why the future may belong to the small congregation.

1. The Economic Factor

I have a close friend who’s a high ranking officer in the loan repayment division of a nationwide bank. He tells me his bank is no longer interested in offering loans to large mega-churches for the simple reason that too many have failed in the past, and it takes too much money to run them. He said the risk is tremendous because one split can cause enough people to leave so that payments can’t be met. Banks don’t like to close churches. The default rate for large churches is much higher than for small churches. This doesn’t bode well for mega-church construction in the future. Most new, small congregations are seeking unconventional buildings or private loans.

2. The Stewardship Factor

Because the large congregation is so extensive, it has a greater tendency to waste financial resources. It’s been my experience in smaller congregations that they operate very economically with strict stewardship measures constantly in operation. There’s a high degree of accountability. For better or worse, people know where every penny goes.

3. Millennials and the Isolationism Factor

The major cause for this switch from mega to small congregations seems to be the people group churches hope to reach. Pastor Karl Vaters of the Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, CA and founder of NewSmallChurch.com has done a great deal of study on the Millennials and the future of the church. He believes the small church is uniquely situated to meet the needs of this special generation. Let me share some of his insights with you:

  • This Millennial generation, also referred to as Generation Y [those born from the early 1980's to 2000] is the first generation in which the majority has been reared outside traditional marriages and often lack intimate relationships. A second factor weakening personal relationships is the technological advance of personal communication devices. Thus genuine, caring relationships will mean more to them than it did to their parents! The small church does these kinds of relationships best.
  • This coming generation will have the same spiritual needs as any other generation, but they will not want those needs met in a large, impersonal atmosphere which is frightening to them, but rather in a small, personal one. The small church also fits the prescription here.
  • Millennials are used to a high-quality experience in everything, but they tend to define quality not as glitzy, show-biz excess, but as a return to the basics, helpfulness and health!  The small church can do this also. “Small does not have to mean cheap, shoddy, lazy or low quality.” --Vaters 
  • Polls conducted by the Pew Forum do show that Millennials attend church less often than their parents on average, but they also show that the ones who do go show a stronger attachment to the faith and more involvement. These same polls also seem to show that Millennials have a deeper and a more entrenched faith than their parents' generation.

Since the days of the O.T. and then on to Pentecost the small church has been the next big thing. Charles Colson called small churches “God's little platoons or brigades,” (Kingdoms In Conflict p. 253-64) the faithful few who provide genuine opportunities for real worship and relationships with real people who love and serve God in the places they are planted.

So let’s seek ways to strengthen the quality of our congregation's interpersonal relationships, and let's take a look at how we in the small church can actually offer top quality total church programs. It will be interesting to see just what God uses next to “build His Church” right before our eyes!

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