The majority of Christian congregations in Canada are small. If your church is small, or has shrunk, it’s in the majority! And the church in Canada is shrinking…fast. A Research Company survey in 2022 found that only 48% of Canadians claimed Christianity as their religion. Canada’s two leading protestant denominations fell to 3.8% of the population by 2021, while Islam, a minority religion, has risen to 3.7%. It is estimated that in the next decade 9000 churches will fold or merge, due to lack of funds and vanishing memberships. But while these stats may cause dismay, they need not lead to despair.
Post-Pentecost congregations were also small in their beginnings. These emerging outposts of the Kingdom of God were comprised mainly of house fellowships with informal leadership and program structures. But in spite of (or because of) its simplicity the early church exploded like a virus from these small cells, spreading the seeds of the Kingdom to the ends of the earth.
Is it at all surprising to the Almighty that we find ourselves depleted and disheartened; maybe despairing of any hope for renewal? In a post-pandemic world, could it be that we, like first-century believers, stand on the cusp of the new beginnings God has in mind for us?
If we follow more closely the teachings of Jesus, the coming days could be a time of exponential growth for the Church in Canada. In Mark 4, several parables of Jesus point out how the Kingdom and Church of Jesus Christ grow. In essence, Jesus said, “if you view the Kingdom and work with the Kingdom for what it is – a living organism – you can be sure that it will grow ‘all by itself’ and you will get mind-blowing results”. When we look more closely at the DNA of the early church, we see on full display the organic principles that nourished its health and growth. Congregations grew out of the fertile soil of principles, values and actions that attracted God’s blessing and ensured future growth. Today’s church structures and strategies have evolved from centuries of experimentation with the principles that promote growth. This process bestowed countless blessings upon early Christianity and during times of reformation and renewal. Meanwhile, our view of the Church today has suffered many distortions as cultural influences have shifted our focus away from biblical norms. By returning to those norms, setting qualitative goals, then pursuing and measuring them, we can be more hopeful about the results.
Small churches may actually be one of God’s most powerful tools for the growth of the Kingdom in the years ahead. It is surprising to discover that (while there are some notable exceptions) the bigger a church grows, the worse it becomes both in quality and in its capability to reach new people for Christ. In few ways is a bigger church a better church. Why is this the case?
One reason is that in smaller churches twice the percentage of members put their spiritual gifts to work for ministry. With fewer spectators, there is a greater likelihood of better quality of church life overall. It is true that larger churches often have more resources to create inspiring worship services that attract a crowd. But does the crowd create a healthy church that will produce more and better disciples of Jesus?
No matter the size of a church, each one has one or more significant areas of weakness, sometimes known as the minimum factor. It is vitally important that church leaders are aware of, and undertake measures, to raise the one or two areas of weakness that have the potential to reduce or fatally damage the fellowship. For example, no amount of dynamic preaching, powerful worship or exciting programs can compensate for a domineering leadership style or toxic relationships. Issues of the heart cannot be solved by adding a new audiovisual system to the worship centre!
When we boost the areas of church life that hinder its health, we gather momentum and energy to tackle other areas until the overall health of the church body grows stronger.
The world needs larger churches, and megachurches, because of the enormous opportunities given to them. We need to celebrate and thank God for their presence. However, we don’t need to look to these assemblies as models for our city, town or neighbourhood. As long as our small churches are healthy and multiplying, they have the powerful potential of having an even greater impact on the world than a few megachurches.
Let’s pay more attention to celebrating our small churches, improving their health, building their resource base and membership while strategically using the Jesus method to multiply churches of all sizes everywhere.