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HomeFeaturesSmall Church › The Innovative Small Church

The Innovative Small Church

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Innovative small churches are giving Christians of all ages opportunities not only to be recipients of ministry but also to minister themselves.

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Close your eyes and imagine the cutting edge of ministry. What do you see? Maybe a state-of-the-art facility that takes advantage of the latest audio-visual and communications technology—professional sound and lights, live tweeting, engaging video. Maybe an expansive Internet presence including virtual campuses in online role-playing games. Or a network of congregations distributed but connected through simulcast video preaching.

I bet I know what you did not see. I would guess you didn’t see a handful of middle-aged worshipers in Middle America singing “Shout to the Lord” in a building last renovated in the 1970s. Or a small group of first-generation Americans in a storefront in a depressed urban neighborhood. I bet you didn’t hear the growl of Harley engines, the jangle of spurs, the wheeze of accordions.

But perhaps that’s what we should see.

A decade into this new millennium, smaller congregations are leading the charge in innovative ministry in remarkable ways. Instead of viewing their small stature as a deficiency to remedy, small churches are embracing their size as a unique advantage for relevant and effective ministry. Doing so requires them to think of everything—including what it means to be innovative—in fresh and refreshing ways. 

Is New Technology the Silver Bullet?

Talk about innovation in ministry often leads to discussions about the potential of communications technologies for expanding the reach of the small-membership church. The church without the resources to have an impressive real-life campus and community presence can flourish in cyberspace. Or so they say.

But the small churches I know that use social media best don’t use it to expand their influence into the ether. Instead, they use it to deepen real-world relationships. Church members host online forums for discussing Sunday’s sermon and how it applies to members of different ages or in different socioeconomic contexts. Deacons use scheduling websites to help arrange meals for ailing members. Several of the small churches I’ve visited in the last year don’t have a PA system in their sanctuary; even fewer are wired for the latest technology. But that doesn’t hinder their innovation. In fact, the way many small churches are “innovating” is by abandoning conventional ministry wisdom about what a church needs and discovering low-tech ways to be successful, significant and relevant.

Boutique Ministry

For the past several decades, church leaders have chased the ever-elusive value of relevance. To reach people, we all know, we have to meet them where they are, articulate their felt needs and create a worship experience that speaks their heart language. We have to prove that church matters to a culture that has its doubts.

Small churches are sensitive to this issue, of course. And to address it effectively, many are asking a more pointed question: Church should be relevant, but to whom?

As an answer to this question, courageous smaller congregations are finding success in ministry by narrowing the demographic they strive to reach. They choose to be relevant to the men and women who work 60 hours a week at the mill just outside of town. They choose to be relevant to the newly arrived immigrant or refugee population struggling to put down roots in a new culture. They embrace a radically local, parish mentality that claims as their target demographic everyone who falls under their steeple’s shadow. Some of these, like cowboy or biker churches, target subculture communities that are unlikely to be attracted to larger, more mainstream congregations. These boutique ministries focus their unique gifts and connections to reach radically specialized groups with the gospel.

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