Monday, December 1, 2014

The Single Staff Church

In the past I have written about the "small church" as an advocate to encourage small church leaders that they are just as valuable in God's Kingdom as any other church.

I identified a small church as any church with less than 200 people attending Sunday morning worship. In 2008 and 2009, I even hosted a series of small church conferences that were semi-successful from my point of view.

Lately, it has occurred to me that the real issue that I was attempting to address dealt more with single staff churches than "small" churches. A single staff church can be a small church but it may also be a church much larger than the definition of a "small church." I know one pastor who is the only staff member of a church that has more than 300 attendees in Sunday morning worship. Now that's a tough job.

Single staff churches operate in a much different manner than do multi-staff churches (firm grasp of the obvious). I would even venture to say that there are more single staff churches in the USA than multi-staff churches (based on my hunch, not hard data. I will search for the data and report back to you).

If my hunch is correct and there are more single staff churches than any other type in our nation, then, of course, there are multiple resources that address the single staff churches to assist these pastors in meeting their unique day-to-day challenges. I searched the Internet, including good ol' Amazon and found [wait for it] {crickets chirping}... almost nothing. Amazon has exactly three books which specifically address single staff churches. All three are written by Southern Baptist single staff church expert D. G. McCoury and published by Convention Press. Yes, this is Southern Baptist literature written in the late 1980's and early 1990's. Unfortunately they are out of print. Fortunately, there are a few used copies floating around and I have ordered a copy of all three books. I'll give you pearls of wisdom from these books.

Now what? Do pastors of single staff churches want literature that specifically addresses their needs? What about a conference to talk about these needs? I don't know but maybe you do.

What I would like to do is to discuss issues involved with single staff churches. This is where you come in. What are the main issues of being a pastor of a single staff church? How are these issues being handled? Is there a better way to be the pastor of a single staff church? What other questions should be addressed to help the pastors of single staff churches?

If there is interest in this topic then we'll earnestly look into it for the good of all. If there is no interest, then we'll forget it and let the pastors of single staff churches learn by osmosis. It's up to you. Let me know what you think.

Monday, July 15, 2013

You Might Be a Small Church Pastor if...

Funny bits from The Unappreciated Pastor.

 You Might Be a Small Church Pastor if...

1) You open each service with “These are my deacons, I am who they say I am, I can do what they say I can do…”
2) At least three times a week someone says to you “I noticed your car was at your house.”
3) The phrase “But we’re a loving church” is the church’s unofficial motto.
4) When someone in your church has their picture in the paper it will be pinned to the bulletin board. 
5) You have two revivals a year. The Pastor gets to pick the speaker for one and the deacons get to pick the speaker for the other.
6) You have more deacons than widows.
7) You have more deacons than windows.
8) The budget committee just whites out the dates on last years budget and runs off copies for the new year.
9) There is a woman in the church that you are deathly afraid of.
10) You have two people you consider friends at the church. One of them is in the third grade.
11) When the phone rings you’re just praying you don’t hear the words “Preacher I need to get in the church.” 
12) You have a church van…YOU have a church van.
13) You have to plan your vacation around VBS.
14) You are regularly volunteered by a specific person in your church without being asked first.
15) There is a man in the church that once said to you “Preacher, do you know how much money I give to this church?”
16) Most of the charter members seats are marked with small blankets in the sanctuary.
17) A couple of times a year someone wants to sing a country music song as a special.
18) The congregation appears to double in size when the choir comes down.
19) Your wife strategically plans her grocery store trips so she doesn’t run into as many church members.
20) There is a weekly spot in your bulletin that reads “The flowers in the sanctuary were given in memory of…”

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Church Growth in the Small Town

by Ron Klassen, RHMA Executive Director.

Our English language is full of oxymorons, like: found missing, resident alien, same difference, definite maybe, sanitary landfill, and working vacation. To some, “small-town church growth” sounds like an oxymoron. With only one stoplight and precious few residents, can the small-town church actually grow? It can, and it has in many contexts. Perhaps what follows will trigger something that might be implemented in your small-town church.

Church growth methods that are effective in the city might not be effective, workable, or even appropriate, in town and country settings. For instance: To be able to maintain a seeker service week in and week out, there must be a considerable population to draw from. A service targeting seekers in a town of 2,000 isn’t likely to have many attendees. Plus, the ability to be anonymous is considered a crucial component—an impossibility in town and country areas.

Offering a contemporary service in hopes of attracting people may actually lead to church decline. There just aren’t enough people in many towns and churches to maintain a contemporary service—or a traditional service, for that matter. This is quite a contrast to urban areas, where offering separate services for different music tastes might contribute to church growth. Furthermore, the rural culture may not be as responsive to a contemporary worship style, or the church may not have the resources (finances or people) to pull it off. Try to put together a worship team, and it may consist of two who are sharp, two flat, and one undecided!

So, when it comes to small-town church growth, one must be cautious about applying the  conventional wisdom found in many books and conferences.

I’m no church growth expert, but for the past 12 years I have been an observer as I’ve traveled all across the country. I’d like to share characteristics of effective evangelistic town and country churches that I’ve observed.

A sense of urgency. In many communities, rural people tend to think most everyone is a Christian. Or, if not, they think the church has been in the community long enough, and if people want to be saved they know the church is there—they’re welcome to attend any time. They don’t feel a sense of urgency to become proactive in evangelism.

What can be done to help overcome this lack of urgency? One suggestion is to compile statistics to show the need. Do a little homework to find how many are unchurched in your community. Don’t just quote generic statistics for the country. If you do, your church people will inevitably think their community is an exception.

One of the advantages of small-town intimacy is that you know most everyone who goes to church and who doesn’t, who’s likely a believer and who isn’t. Unlike in a city like Chicago, in a small town you can go through the phone book and highlight people who are unchurched or in churches that do not proclaim a clear gospel. Then, add up this list and determine what percentage in your community are likely unsaved. I can virtually guarantee that your congregation will be shocked.

The unsaved are out there! This will open your congregation’s eyes. It will help give them a sense of urgency for evangelism in your community.

Credibility. In urban areas, one could potentially be effective in evangelism without having a credible life. You could steal from your employer during the day, but lead someone to Christ through your church’s Evangelism Explosion program that night. You could cuss out your fellow worker on the job, but be a youth leader who is effectively reaching teens. You could have a shabby reputation with your next-door neighbors, but be a counselor at a big evangelistic crusade.

Why? Because you are evangelizing people you don’t know or aren’t with all week long. They have no idea how you live your life. Contrast this to the small-town environment, where it’s almost impossible to lead a double life. I know of a megachurch pastor whose marriage was in shambles for years, but the congregation didn’t know it. In fact, his wife almost never attended church and they didn’t know it. Yet, he is one of the most successful evangelistic pastors I know. This could never happen in a small town. If my wife missed church even once, scads of people asked where she was!

Without credibility, it isn’t too likely that one can be effective at evangelism in a small town. Two kinds of credibility are needed: personal and corporate.

You can’t cheat your neighbor, not pay your bills, share juicy gossip over a cup of coffee, or tell off-color jokes to someone on the street, and then be successful in sharing the Lord with those same people later in the week as you work cattle with them. Personal credibility is essential.

Among rural people, one’s entire personal history is known: conduct, values, past sins (going all the way back to one’s teen years!), marriage relationship, family life, financial dealings—it’s all an open book. And if one’s book doesn’t make for the kind of reading that enhances credibility, then one’s ability to be successful at evangelism is in question. Life in the small town is lived in a fishbowl. Nothing gets past anyone. There are few dark corners in which one can hide. To be an effective evangelist in a rural community, one must meet the strictest test of accountability.

What is true for individuals is also true for the church. The most effective evangelistic church will be a healthy church—health being what makes a church credible. No evangelism endeavors in a rural community will likely be effective if the church is not healthy. Again, this is because of social
intimacy. If one is talking to someone about Christ and they’re thinking, You attend First Church down the street. I’ve heard all about the kinds of things that happen in that church., they’ll likely conclude that they want no part of it!

How can this hindrance be overcome? I can hear a small-town resident saying: “What hope is there for me? When I was in sixth grade, I stole candy from the local store. I got caught and the newspaper put it on the front page. Even though I was 12 when it happened and I’m 36 now, everyone in town remembers what I did. I want to be used of God to reach people for Christ, but how can I?”

Or someone might say, “I blew it back during those tough years on the farm. I was going bankrupt and hid some assets from my creditor so that I’d have something to start over with. I got caught and everyone knows it. My reputation is shot. I can never live it down. I want to be successful in evangelism, but how can I?”

Or, “What you’re telling me I have to do is absolutely impossible. No matter how hard I try, sooner or later I’m going to sin. A bad word is going to slip out of my mouth, or I’m going to laugh at an off-color joke, or I’m going to say a cross word to my wife in public.”

Sooner or later, it seems that every person and every church takes their turn at messing up. And, in a small town, everyone knows it. If not messing up is a prerequisite for effective evangelism, then no one in town and country areas will be able to do it. How can one maintain credibility in a small town?
One suggestion: Regularly lead your church in individual and corporate repentance. This is a long-forgotten ministry in many local churches.

Start with a prayer time on Sunday morning. Follow the example of many of the prayers of the Bible, many of which consist of the spiritual leader bringing the sins of the people before God. The whole Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16 centered around corporate confession. Many leaders, like Daniel and Nehemiah, led their people in prayers of confession.

Many Sundays, during prayer time, as pastor I confessed the sins of the people before God. Not private sins that I learned from counseling appointments, but general sins that I knew our people had committed. (Be careful—if you’ve done marriage counseling that week, don’t confess their sins on Sunday!) I would say things like, “Since last week some of us have yelled at our children when we shouldn’t have, cheated on a test in school, hidden income from the IRS, read magazines or looked at television programs that are an affront to You, gossiped against our neighbor…” Pray thoughtfully and with great care. Don’t say, “In the cafe we have gossiped,” because this might be a slam against the cafe owners.

I would confess these sins corporately before God. Then, if anything happened in the nation during the week, I confessed that: “Lord, Congress passed an abortion law this week that must grieve you terribly…”

Leading your congregation in corporate repentance is not only a regular reminder to them of the importance of confession and repentance, it also has a cleansing benefit. Confessing sins has a way of encouraging your people not to commit the same sins next week. Often I would say this as part of
my confession prayer: “Lord, we acknowledge this is wrong. Help us not to repeat these sins this week.”

My experience has been that corporate confession not only helped the church become healthy, it also provided a model for individual confession. It showed the need for making things right with God and with people.

Maybe it was someone’s comments that caused a congregational meeting to blow up. All it takes is one nasty congregational meeting and, when word gets out into the community, the church’s witness can be damaged for years. But, if dealt with properly, the community will hear about that too. They will say, “People aren’t perfect at First Church, but when wrong things happen there they deal with them.”

Just because we have sinned—as individuals or as a church—doesn’t mean our credibility is lost forever. What we need to understand is that humble repentance is a powerful witness. It’s the kind of news that gets around town too! It restores credibility.

Multi-faceted. It is my observation that churches which are effective at evangelism take a multi-faceted approach. They don’t look for one formula, one program, or one method as their solution. They don’t put all their eggs in one basket. They approach it from a number of angles—sometimes dozens of them.

They look for obstacles that need to be removed which are making evangelism difficult. An example: a church constitution that requires a form of decision making that creates a lot of open conflict and harms the church’s reputation.

They look for building improvements that are needed that will make the church more attractive for newcomers: painting that needs to be done, creating a pleasant foyer, remodeling the nursery, upgrading the sound system, installing new bathroom fixtures.

They look for church ministries that need improving—the music, the children’s programs.

They create lots of opportunities for their people to be involved in evangelism: show movies on Main Street, host a children’s rodeo, a Vacation Bible School, a Thanksgiving dinner, etc.

They repeatedly suggest many ways that their congregation can be involved with evangelism on a personal level: make it a point to go hunting with an unbeliever, invite neighbors into your home, head up a Welcome Wagon program for newcomers, volunteer in the public school, etc.

As the small-town church becomes more intentional about growth, the pastor has many important hats to wear.

Cheerleader. Encourage, share success stories, and affirm effective evangelism endeavors. Write about them in the church newsletter, congratulate in the church bulletin, talk about them from the pulpit.

Equipper. Train for evangelism. Don’t assume your people know how to evangelize or communicate the gospel.

Mentor. Show by example. It’s hard to imagine church people developing relationships with unbelievers if their pastor isn’t. Invite neighbors over. Work cattle with ranchers. Hop on a combine with farmers. Go to auctions. Go hunting. Become a volunteer ambulance driver. Spend time in
the cafe. Attend ball games…and sit with unbelievers.

Orchestrator. Provide multiple evangelism opportunities: a released time class at the local grade school, a concert in the park, a Valentine’s banquet, etc.

Nudger. Keep nudging (not shoving!) your people to do it.

Pray-er. Pray about evangelism endeavors in the pulpit. Pray in other contexts.

Informer. Remind your people about how many newcomers move into town. When I was pastoring in a town of 500, the local city utilities man attended our church. He once told me he had hooked up about a dozen electric meters for newcomers in our town in the past three months. I was shocked. I
passed the news on to our evangelism committee. They didn’t believe me, until I produced real names. Our committee went to work with a plan for welcoming newcomers to town and befriending them. A number of them became a part of our church.

Evaluator. Always look for ways to improve the things you are presently doing to encourage church growth and for new ways to help the church grow.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Four Core Values of Small Town Ministry

The following article was written by Ron Klassen, RHMA Executive Director.


In every ministry, there are times of question: Should I keep doing what I'm doing or do something completely different with my life? Should I keep doing the same thing, but in a different setting?

It's possible to evaluate these questions to another level: Does God want me to keep doing what I'm doing? is there something different I could do, or a different place I could do it, that would have greater impact for Him?

When these kinds of questions surface (which they do about twice a week in small town ministry), a few core values might make a difference.

Value #1: Individuals Are Important to God
Christ's parable of the lost sheep communicates this value loud and clear. To what great length the Shepherd went to find that one lost sheep!

God doesn't view this world in terms of masses; He views this world one person at a time. The God of the universe cares about that one lost person out in the middle of nowhere, whether "nowhere" is a tribal village in Irian Jaya or a small town in our own country---the "remotest part of the earth" of Acts 1:8. The Navigators' slogan, "Reaching the world one person at a time," should not be lost in our day of emphasis on the masses.

The well-known missionary martyr, Jim Elliot, devoted his life---and eventually gave his life---to reaching the approximately 300 people in the Auca Indian tribe in Ecuador. Statistically they were an insignificant number, especially when measured against the millions of people in the cities of Ecuador. But they were important to Jim Elliot, because they were important to God.

Confident that people in small population areas matter to God just as much as the urban masses, those who serve in such places can do so unapologetically, and be content to reach people one at a time.

Value #2: Isolated Contexts Are Not Limiting to God
Sometimes we are prone to think God's hands are pretty well tied in lower population areas---that size limits what God can do. But even in small places, large numbers can be reached. It depends not so much on numbers, but on God's sovereignty.

In Matthew 9:35-36, we read that when Christ taught in towns and villages, "crowds" gathered. Similarly, though John the Baptist's pulpit was out in the wilderness, multitudes flocked to hear him.

Time and time again it has been proven that good-sized churches can be found in isolated contexts. One church, in Oshoto, Wyoming, grew to an average attendance of 70, though only 131 people lived within a ten-mile radius of the church!

The "Religion Report"1 told of a city in Russia that missionaries went to. They worked hard, but with little response. An elderly woman in a nearby village invited the missionaries to come and preach in her town. The entire village of eighty showed up, and at the end of the service all eighty responded to the invitation!

Value #3: Sphere of Influence is More important Than Population
Living in a larger context does not guarantee larger influence. A million people living in close proximity does not mean a million people will be influenced for Christ. All of us are limited in how many we can influence. What's the difference, then, if we touch one thousand lives in a city of a million or on thousand lives in a smaller town of, say, two thousand?

Furthermore, it could be argues that because a small town is a more personal setting, the pastor or missionary in that town---known by everyone in town---will have more influence among the thousand lives he touches than he would among a thousand lives in a larger context. In a small town, when the pastor is in the local cafe, he is having influence, while in a large city no one in the cafe likely even knows him or knows he's a pastor. One may actually touch more lives, and have a greater influence in the small town than in the city.

Value #4: The Ability to See Potential is a Key to Success
Looking though God's eyes, it is possible to see potential where many can see none. One pastor might look over a community and see no potential there. Another might look at the same community and be excited about what he sees could happen in that place.

Sam Walton is an example of someone who saw potential when most could see none. He wrote, "Our key strategy...was simply to stores into little one-horse towns which everybody else was ignoring...In those days, K-mart wasn't going to towns below 50,000...We knew our formula was working even in towns small than 5,000 people, and there were plenty of those towns out there for us to expand into. When people want to simplify the Wal-Mart story, that's usually how they sum up the secret of our success: 'Oh, they went into small towns when nobody else would'...While the big guys were leap-frogging from large city to large city...they left huge pockets of business out there for us."2

If Sam Walton could see potential for Wal-Mart in small towns, then can we not see potential for the churches we pastor in small towns?

1. "National & International Religion Report," February 20, 1995.

2. Sam Walton, "Made in America---My Story," pp. 109-110.