bits from bob....

Beyond Keeping House: Effective Ministry in Smaller Churches

by Robert J. Young
©, 2002, Robert J. Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

"We are just keeping house." This observation, especially in smaller churches, is far too frequent. A high percentage of smaller churches are plateaued or declining. How may smaller churches develop effective, life-giving ministries? What are some key elements in meaningful ministry?

First, effective ministry begins with a solid foundation. How do we build on the foundation of Jesus Christ? A healthy understanding of the nature of the church and a biblical view of leadership are essential in providing a solid basis for ministry. Focusing on a past that is often perceived as bigger and better than the present tends toward defensiveness and reactivity. An exciting, healthy future is often difficult to envision. Leaders must understand the characteristics of healthy churches and proactively lead churches toward those activities and goals which are consistent with the identity, context, and abilities of the local church. Comparisons and imitations of mega-church models are mostly futile and generally counterproductive. A solid foundation begins with understanding the unique situation of the local church as it brings Jesus to its community.

Second, ministry must be selfless. The preacher must be committed to ministry and willing to pay the price. Something about human nature causes many of us to "cut corners" when little seems at stake, and the smaller, rural churches qualify in many minds as places where little is at stake. No wonder small churches frequently struggle! Studied sermon preparation, creatively designed strategies and activities, and careful analysis which reveals the processes at work in the church are generally more important in smaller churches which suffer from lowered self-esteem than in larger congregations where the self-perception is "we're OK."

Third, ministry must be shared. Effective churches are not built where the preacher does it all. Preacher-centered activities and programs usually stop when the preacher who implemented them leaves, and unfortunately, tenure is often brief in smaller churches.

Several characteristics of effective churches might be named, but high on any list should be the truths that effective ministry must be solidly based, selfless, and shared.


[This article was reprinted in Ministry 14:1994]

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Last updated January 8, 2002.