Many years ago someone asked me how I kept track of who was in the Sunday worship service and who wasn’t. I said it was easy because everyone had their own special seat on their pew, so I just recalled whose places were vacant.
Preaching to the same people week after week for years and years may seem rather boring, but that’s what pastoring a small church in a rural area is all about. If you’re a pastor of a small church, I’d like to give you some encouragement. The following statistics not only sound great, I’ve seen them in my work over the last 40 years in ministry, so I know they’re accurate.
In his book, The Small Church is Different!, (Abington Press, 1982) Dr. Lyle Schaller pointed out several things that keep the small congregation going. One of the main strengths is that they all foster instant participation and on-the-job training. James Long, editor of Outreach Magazine wrote in their issue for July/August '09
Small churches normally just simply do a more effective job empowering their people to participate in the work of God.
Dr. Ron Klassen, general director of Rural Home Missionary Association wrote in his book No Little Places: The Untapped Potential of the Small-Town Church, (Baker, 1996)
A disproportionate percentage of professional Christian workers, including as many as 80% of foreign missionaries, come from small churches...Because smaller churches prepare young people for future service. (p. 86-87)
What this points to is that leadership in every field is born, nurtured, and developed best in the atmosphere of the small church body. The reason that’s true in the small church is the simple fact that the smaller the congregation, the less room there is for anyone to just be a spectator. The common joke among small churches is,
“You walk in the door three times here, and we'll put you to work!”
I see polls all the time that say that up to 80% of members in small congregations have specific ministry tasks, while in large congregations the percentage is more in the range of 35%-40%. [Klassen, p. 78] Yes, some few may be turned off by that, but many more will actually be turned on for life by such acceptance and involvement. “Active membership” in the small congregation really means that one is actively involved every Sunday.
So, if you’re the pastor of a small church and have people below the age of 65 sitting before you each week, just think of every Sunday as world leadership training time. And praise the Lord for such a great opportunity!