Thirty-one pastors of EPC small churches (average attendance up to 200) took part in a survey to reach a consensus on the most pressing issues facing small church leaders. The issue that surfaced at the top of the list was "Church Ministries." Visitors to small churches often expect a full range of programs. Small churches only have the resources to do a few, meaning visitors don't return and members get tired and/or discouraged.
Probably most small church pastors have experienced the frustration of seeing visitors come a few times but then settle in larger churches because they can offer a wider range of programs for their family. It's common to have the feeling, "If all those people had stayed, we could offer more programs right here."
The missional church conversation offers a good deal of hope. One thread of this broad conversation has to do with becoming an incarnational church more than an attractional church. If a church's goal is to design a wide range of programs to attract people into the church, a small church is severely limited in what it can do. However, if a church understands itself missionally its focus is on being a community of disicples living under the Lordship of Christ participating in God's mission to the community. A missional ministry is incarnational. It gathers and equips people with the goal of deploying them into their community as individuals and together.
I have found Kennon Callahan inspiring and helpful on this point. In his book Small, Strong Congregations (Jossey-Bass, 2000) Callahan urges small churches to find one excellent ministry that they can pursue with passion as their gift to the community. For leaders, this means cultivating an atmosphere in which people understand that calling and discern together what that excellent ministry is. This kind of missional thinking can bring an outward focus, energy, and fruitfulness to a small community of believers. It may or may not result in more people on Sunday morning. It should result in a church fulfilling its covenant calling of being a blessing to others (Gen. 12).
Please add your comments on the topic. How have you navigated this pressing issue of "church ministries"? What kind of incarnational ministries has your small congregation undertaken? Have you read Callahan? What do you think?