Are you a church builder or community impacter?

Are you building a church or reaching a community? Neither one is wrong, but they are different. You can build a church and reach a community; you can reach a community and build a church. They are are not mutually exclusive.

The difference lies in the approach. When you build a church, where people come from doesn’t matter. They could live on the other end of the city or in a different county, but they are a part of your church. Building a church has more of a macro approach. It might be more aimed at a demographic (i.e. young families, single professionals, boomers…jk) within a region. Building a church is contingent upon gathering a crowd. You then use that crowd to reach more people with Jesus. Naturally, within this church, you have people from many different areas who can take Jesus to their community. Awesome, right! They build a church and reach a community. The primary cause is to attract people to your church. The effect of that cause, hopefully, is to reach communities.

The other approach is to reach a community. It is pinpointed not so much one demographic over a broad area, as it is trying to reach the people (even boomers) in a community, town, borough, etc. If you reach enough people with who Jesus is, you attract a crowd, and a church can grow. The primary cause is to reach a community. The effect of that cause, hopefully, is to build a church.

The subtle difference isn’t so subtle. When we take the wrong approach to a community, it causes frustration, burnout, and even kills the ministry. Some neighbourhoods in large cities need and want specialized care. Maybe they feel segregated from another district who seems to get all the attention. Perhaps you’re in a rural area where there are no surrounding communities to draw. Try building a church in a community of a thousand, and it might be tough sledding. Yes, there may be people who travel from outside your ‘hood to attend whatever your gathering is, but you will miss out on reaching the community right in front of you because your net is cast too wide. In business, you might say, “Know your lane and do it well.”

However, you could find yourself in a municipality with a transient community. People may take pride in their community, but they are willing to travel across town or into a different city to have the amenity that they want. If someone became super focused on a specific area in this context, they could be throttling their growth. In business, you might call this diversification.

Where this can get challenging is in the comparison game. Pastors, boards, and parishioners always have, and it appears they always will compare themselves to one another. While both approaches goal is ultimately to reach people, they are different and cannot be compared. You might say you cannot compare Walmart to Patagonia. While one seems to literally sell everything, the other has a particular focus. You might like the example of Karl Vaters, who compares these types of churches to Ikea and Starbucks. There is one Ikea per million people where there might be a Starbucks in every neighbourhood. They both want to reach new customers, however, their approach is different. Starbucks doesn’t want you to drive across town for your double mocha blond roast with extra whip. They want you to go to your neighbourhood shop to the barista who knows your name. How bad would it be for business if Ikea were to set up shop in each district? That would be insane!!!

Yet so often in our church world, pastors don’t apply the right model. They want the numerical growth of this church or the neighbourhood impact of that church. While in either model, you can eventually have both, and it is something to build toward.

If your church is in a small community, a niche demographic, a segregated borough, remember what God has called you to. He has called you to reach those people. Never ignore the one for the hundreds you might wish you had.

If your church is in a city or a commuting municipality, remember that you have an opportunity to throw a broad net to reach out to many different people in different places. God has called you to that region. Never tunnel your vision so narrow that you cannot see the forest for the trees.

Finally, please…learn from one another. Church builders learn how to reach communities from community impactors and apply the principles to your small groups. Community reachers learn from the church builders on how to scale the impact you are making so that you can grow and multiply to reach other communities and people.

We are all a part of the kingdom. We just must remember which is your part.

We need you small church Pastor

A lot has been made these days about the size of a church. In comparison to many, I’ve only been on the scene for a minute, so I really can’t say if this is a new trend or not, but it has been around for my 15+ years in ministry. However, I talk to a lot of pastors, most of which would pastor small churches, and there is an overwhelming feeling of discouragement and a lack of confidence. It appears that their hope is dwindling

In my new book, Hidden Faces, one of the things I explore is defining ourselves as either a small church or prominent church pastor and how it has detrimental effects on our identity. The state of your church does not change how God views you.

Saying all this, I believe it is sad that we praise and honour the large and never acknowledge the sacrifice and important pastoral work of the small. I once heard Karl Vaters say that the large church is Ikea and the small church is a Starbucks. Both are great but they are different.

I think about how sad it is that there are a group of people serving God to the best of their capacity who feel as though what they do no longer matters to the broader church. These men and women have dedicated their lives to the greatest message of hope in the world, they have sacrificed and lived on little. Some have moved to communities where everyone else is running out, and many are one of the very few spiritual lights in their communities, and they feel ignored. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not speaking about one better than the other. I believe it is about honour. We need to say thank you to the big and thank you to the small. We need to figure out how to help each other. After all, we are all doing kingdom work.

I think that instead of heaping shame (whether it be perceived or not) on why they are the size they are or offering them “advice” on how they can break the next growth barrier. Maybe, we could encourage.

Thank you for being faithful when others would have turned.

Thank you for ministering to people who would never dawn the door of the closest large church.

Thank you for standing in the gap in a community where there is very little light.

Maybe what others should do is ask, how can we help the dreams this pastor has in his heart for their community become a reality? After all, aren’t we all playing for the same team? Augustine once wrote, “…the life of bodies is superior to bodies themselves.” Though their flock maybe smaller is not the value of the people, they are serving just as vital. We need big and small in order to reach all people. Ikea and Starbucks serve different functions according to peoples needs.

I’ve heard it said, do for the one what you wish you could do for the many. It is because the smaller church pastor stands in the gap that half the worlds Christians have a someone to do for the one. The small church pastor can provide specialized care. 

Small church pastor, you are not insignificant, what you do has value.

Small church pastor, thank you. Keep the faith. Fight the good fight. You are not forgotten. God wants to change your community, and he would love to do it through your church.

Thank you, from a small church pastor.

Check out the resources used in this post

Augustin Confessions.p.42