Leadership and Small Churches

Sam Rainer

November 4, 2008

Having pastored a small, rural church, I had a taste of some of the unique leadership challenges of these congregations. Some are full of love but stuck in a time warp. Others are struggling in declining communities. Some intentionally use their smallness to reach people for Jesus. And a few are just plain mean.

LifeWay Research recently surveyed 350 pastors of congregations that average fewer than 100 in primary worship attendance. In this study they found that 67 percent of pastors of small congregations are frustrated with slow progress at their churches. While data on larger congregations isn’t available, I would venture a guess that similar percentages also represent bigger churches.

The entire report can be found here, but I found the following research snippet intriguing:

Although 70 percent of the pastors said the allocation of their church budget adequately funds current objectives, 40 percent agreed their church rarely has time to step back and plan appropriately. While more than half of pastors – 57 percent – have written a vision or mission statement adopted by their church, two-thirds rarely change who is responsible for certain work or responsibilities.

I know from personal experience that one of the biggest hurdles in pastoring a small church is finding the time to lead beyond next Sunday. Many small church pastors are bi-vocational (as I was), and they lean heavily upon lay leaders to accomplish things (as I did). As a result, small church pastors can become reluctant to shift or change people’s roles. Sometimes this lack of change is due to the fact that no one else is available. Some are thriving in their small churches, but in other cases, a lack of change is due to personal claims on church turf.

I believe that one of the major solutions to leadership challenges at small churches is longer pastor tenure. It takes time for any pastor to earn a few chips in order to make effective changes that the people will champion. This element of leadership is magnified at smaller churches due to the congregation size. Of course, most small churches tend to have shorter pastor tenures, which do not help the cycle. The people of the church are accustomed to a new pastor every two years, so they naturally fill the long-term leadership roles.

What do you guys think? What are other leadership hurdles at small churches? And what are some solutions that you have found effective in these churches?

After leaving a comment, stop by Chuck Warnock’s blog, Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor. He leads good conversations about small church health.

2 comments on “Leadership and Small Churches”

  1. Hey, Sam, thanks for the link, and for linking up on Facebook. Look forward to seeing you sometime! -Chuck

  2. Ed Eubanks says:

    I pastor a small church, and my biggest hurdle is leadership resources. By that I mean, I lack people who are gifted, skilled, and qualified for leadership. We have a shortage of teachers, especially, and it is difficult to advance ministry (the current ministry or future expansion) without additional teachers.

    Another hurdle for us: we’re just before the threshold on a couple of key things. We have some young children, but not enough that a visiting family would think, “there is ministry for my children here.” Likewise with teenagers and singles. Only one or two families in either category, or a few more singles, and we would cross that threshold and find this obstacle removed (or hurdle leapt).

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