18 April 2013

The Painful Truth about Small Churches

A friend forwarded to my email a short article by Joe McKeever entitled "10 Reasons Small Churches Tend to Stay Small."  My ministry field is a smaller one.  My town of Hazard is small.  The churches in the community overwhelmingly tend to be small.  However, like everywhere their are many unchurched people who could be reached.  The title of his essay got my attention because it is self evident that many churches do remain small and go years without reaching new people.  I was curious about this guy's take on the reasons for that fact.  He has good experience and he's a good thinker.

Before I read through the article, I decided I would evaluate First Baptist Hazard with his "reasons."  Our church, like many churches all around our Southern Baptist Convention, has been in a trajectory of decline for 50 years.  Most of it has been gradual, punctuated by a couple steep drop offs due to conflict.  Right now we are at the beginning of a long-range strategic planning process, and I am greatly encouraged.  It may be the first time this has been done in a long, long time or ever.  I'm not really sure.  Possibly, I'll blog about that at a later date.  For now, back to the McKeever article.

Here are the reasons Joe McKeever believes tend to keep smaller churches stuck and ineffective in reaching new people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I'll list them and then note how I think First Baptist Hazard relates to each one.

1. Wanting to stay small - FBC: not true
2. A quick turnover of pastors - FBC: has been true of the 2 before me (hopefully not now!)
3. Domination by a few strong members - FBC: if true in the past, not true now
4. Not trusting leaders - FBC: not true (of the vast majority as far as I can tell)
5. Inferiority complex- FBC: definitely not true! 
6. No plan - FBC: TRUE (hence, long-range strategic planning)
7. Bad [spiritual] health - FBC: not true as a whole
8. Lousy fellowship - FBC: not true (but could be better)
9. A state of neglect permeates the church - FBC: TRUE
10. No prayer - FBC: not true (but could be much stronger

There it is; the painful truth as I see it. I will have been at First Baptist this August for 5 years.  I think I've had enough time to figure out where we stand.  Of these 10 items I think we are guilty of two big time - no plan for ministry and neglect.  I think both of these specifics have emerged from an overall general apathy, which we can no longer afford.  The good news is that I believe 8 of the 10 are not reasons for First Baptist to stay small in it's thinking, dreaming, ministry, or attendance.

First Baptist Hazard is at a crossroads.  We can continue the slide and reap the pain it will inevitably bring, or we can pray, learn, talk, plan, seek, and act now.  God has called me to lead this church.  Fellow pastors, God has called you to lead your churches.  I challenge you to take this list as a prompt to consider what might be blocking the congregation God has given you to lead from being effective for the Gospel. 

Most of you out there are at small churches and some of those churches have been small for a long time.  Pray, seek, think - let God reveal to you the symptoms of your sickness.  That's the first step.  Then let God guide you to reinvigorate the church for the purpose of making disciples for the glory of God. 

Be prayerful, patient, wise, humble and kind.  Lead with the gentle nudge of a shepherd's staff, not with the swats and jabs of a cattle prod.  God provides the resources, saves the soul, and grows His children according to His own purposes and plan.  But don't underestimate your role as leader in His church in His plan.  What an awesome responsibility we pastors have! Own it and make a positive difference.            



  1. Dr. Cornett,

    I think your reasons are about the same as ours here in rural Arkansas. And as the son of a man born in Hazard, Kentucky, many years ago, I will be praying for you!

    Doug Hibbard

    1. Doug, thanks for the prayers. I preached in several AR churches when I lived in Memphis and taught at MABTS. Did your dad live in Hazard?

  2. Some churches are small because they take a statist and controlling attitude towards ceremony. Mandatory church attendance or you get the third degree "where were you?" You can't even miss once or you lose all of your "status" and are treated like a heathen. Meanwhile the drunk, the adulterer, the fornicator, the homosexual are all treated better than the person who misses one service a year. Its obvious why those churches are small. As to the rest, God knows.

    1. Jose, You've had an interesting experience in a church if what you say is accurate. For a church to tolerate open worldliness, yet be intolerant of the one who simply "misses one service a year" is bizzare and nothing I've ever seen or heard of. I agree that would be a big spiritual problem for a church.


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