Small Churches: Introduction

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"Developing an Effective Planning Model for the Smaller Church"

Small Church Introduction
Resources--A Brief Overview
In comparing the information available today with that available a few short years ago in the early 1990s, information and research concerning the dynamics of the small church has exploded. A plethora of information is available today as evidenced by the fact that an on-line Yahoo search for "small church" yields upward of 50000 web sites and pages.

Brief Summary of Internet Resources
Sources of information available on the Internet include Leadership Journal online and various seminary or Bible college sites, as well as sites maintained by denominational groups. In my most recent search, the first reference to a site maintained by someone associated with the churches of Christ was at #36 when an Austin Siburt article published online by "webminister" appeared. A sermon concerning the small church from "" appeared at #48. It certainly speaks to the fact that the small church has been out of sight to a majority of those in churches of Christ, at least with regard to published research and resources. It may speak to the fact that denominational superstructures have the ability to spend money in researching and supporting the small churches within their denominations, whereas our autonomous approach has precious little money available for the small church, for maintaining websites, publishing resources, or researching needs. Such could possibly occur in the context of our Christian colleges, but the return on investment appears to be relatively small if one hopes to recoup publication or research costs.
A quick survey of the first 100 sites (less than 1% of the pages listed in my search results) shows the following. At least three seminary or Bible college sites appeared with information posted from Western Seminary, Bangor Theological Seminary, and Emmanuel Bible College (Canada). Sites with clear denominational affiliations providing resources for churches within the denomination included sites associated with the Reformed Church, Episcopal, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and Baptist. As previously mentioned, a page from "webminister" appeared in the search results, but not with resources primarily devoted to small church concerns. A Pentecostal church in Kentucky maintains a site with small church resources, but the site was not apparently a function of the Pentecostal church at a higher level than the local congregation. The Methodists in eastern Ohio receive nominations for the "Small Church of the Year." The Baptist materials included materials relating to bi-vocational ministry. One site (unavailable) mentioned a "Small Church in Action" series of books, indicating the availability of such materials. The Catholic materials were primarily concerned with the small church communities being established within the context of the local parishes. While only two articles from Leadership Journal appeared in the sites listings, a "small church" search limited to that site yielded 128 articles. As might be expected for those familiar with their work, Alban Institute had a reference as a publishing resource for small church materials. Materials by David Ray (The Big Small Church Book) and Tony Pappas at NetResults were also mentioned. Several sites are maintained independently of denominational ties, e.g. "". One site, "", not only yielded the Alban reference and also provided a relatively up-to-date bibliography. Independent for-profit sites such as "www.newlifeministries" will provide small church products for a fee. A particularly interesting site, apparently maintained at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, contained an index to 77 articles relating to the small church and rural ministry --"".

Books--Publishers and Authors
In addition to online resources, many helpful books are in print relative to small church dynamics. Only a small number of these are listed here. Alban Institute materials, e.g. Burt and Roper's Raising Small Church Esteem (2000 edition retitled The Little Church That Could, published by Judson), are excellent resources. Cushman's Beyond Survival: Revitalizing the Small Church reflects a Presbyterian perspective. Another excellent author is Carl Dudley (Developing Your Small Church's Potential). Kent Hunter has weighed in with The Lord's Harvest in the Rural Church: A New Look at Ministry in the Agri-culture. Loren Mead's various works published by Alban, helpful and applicable not only for the small church but for all churches, will be especially useful resources for small churches. Likewise the materials from Alban authored by Anthony Pappas. Poling-Goldenne and Jung, Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations, was published by Augsburg in 2001 and is a helpful resource for the small, rural church. David Ray continues to consider the dynamics of the small church (most recently, The Big Small Church Book). Lyle Schaller's various works are helpful, especially his work, The Small Church is Different!. Other authors and titles will prove useful for various areas of study, but these are of special interest and help. See my expanded Small Church Bibliography for additional references.

As previously mentioned, Leadership Journal continues to publish a significant number of articles related to the dynamics of the small church. RSI is a helpful resource within the American Restoration but has a limited number of listings.

Factors in Current Studies
While much good material is available, it should be observed that denominational material is often interested primarily in maintaining the status quo. Much denominational small church material is not focused on growth, but rather on maintenance and celebration of smallness. This is a factor which needs correcting in small church studies within the context of churches of Christ. Future studies should seek to focus on the growth of the small church.
An important correlative is the significance of small church studies as a part of the church planting and nurturing models. Small church studies may also have significance as a part of missions studies, although one must discern to what extent small church studies are culturally biased.
Finally, a caveat is needed in researching small church dynamics, for several sites and references are to the model of establishing small churches within the context of a larger congregation. First Free Evangelical in St. Louis has a site which explains the option of either attending the regular assembly or attending a small church during the worship hour. Small church groups are also common in Catholic parishes. I found one reference to this ministry model on a Lutheran church site.

The contemporary church needs to increase its emphasis--research, resources, and encouragement--in the area of small church studies since a majority of the churches of Christ are in that category. While some have claimed that small churches "are seldom studied," it is likely more accurate to say that the studies of small church dynamics among churches of Christ are not in our general awareness. Nonetheless, as has been outlined above there is much occurring in this area in the North American religious world. We in churches of Christ need to accelerate consideration of these concerns.
Continuing studies would not require beginning with a new slate. Beginning with my master's degree studies at Oklahoma Christian in the late 1980s, I spent considerable time in some initial research concerning the dynamics of small churches. Many helpful resources were available even then, and was surprised to learn how much study was being done within the churches of Christ. Beginning in the early 1990s, Sunset (now Sunset International Bible Institute) began hosting workshops with an emphasis on the small church. I spoke at the second of those in 1993. Many tapes and resources are available through Sunset.
I addressed small church ministry in small communities at the Oklahoma Christian lectures in 1990, and spoke on the same subject at the Abilene Christian Bible Teachers' Workshop in 1991. Oklahoma Christian University has maintained a fairly constant emphasis on small church ministry in its annual lectureship. Also in the mid-1990s, I addressed the subject of small church dynamics at the Tulsa workshop. "Leaven" devoted an issue to small church ministry in 1998. In May, 1999 I participated in a small church workshop in North Carolina (organized and hosted by Dennis Connor at Yadkinville) and was impressed by the number of men in that area who were actively thinking about and studying small church dynamics. Incidentally, that workshop was billed as the 13th annual Small Church Workshop. I am also aware that many regional workshops and mens' retreats continue to address various facets of small church dynamics.
I can only think that there is a lot more out there under the surface than we might guess.

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Last updated May 22, 2006.