By Tim Chermak
Wrecked recently got a chance to hear about Brandon J. O’Brien’s new book The Strategically Small Church. Here’s a look at the discussion we had with the author:
What initially led you to explore the idea of a “strategically small church?”
The fact is, most churches are small churches-something like 95 percent of churches in America have fewer than 500 worshipers on a Sunday morning. But the majority of ministry books are written by pastors of large churches and celebrate the large-church way of doing things. Based on what I’ve seen, there are a lot of small churches out there that are doing remarkable ministry. I thought it was time people heard some of their stories.
How did you go about researching in preparation for the book?
My job for the past two years has been as an editor for Leadership journal. In that role, I’ve attended conferences, interviewed pastors of churches of all sizes, and gotten an inside look at the publishing trends in ministry resources. So some of my research has involved keeping track of trends in church ministry and leadership.
A lot of the material in the book, though, comes from my interviews with pastors in the trenches. Almost every church leader I interviewed leads a church of under 300. I’m not pretending to be the expert-I’ve tried to let these pastors speak for themselves. Small churches don’t get a lot of press; but I’ve found that their pastors have a lot of wisdom.
How have your life experiences shaped your ideas of church-what size church did you grow up in?
The church I grew up in was larger than average when we joined-maybe 500 or 600-and had passed 1,000 in attendance by the time I left for college. I think growing up in a large church conditioned me to believe that large church ministry was the norm. But in my freshman year of college, I served as pastor at a church of about 20 people. That church was active in outreach, discipleship, and evangelism. I learned from them that a church doesn’t have to be big to make a big impact.
“A strategically small church is anti-evangelistic and ignores the Great Commission.” How do you respond to that?
That statement shows a lack of imagination. Just because a church is not growing in numbers, that doesn’t mean that it is not winning people for the Kingdom. One characteristic of strategically small churches is that they value cooperation over competition. When churches cooperate, the Kingdom grows, but individual churches may not, or they may grow slowly. Granted, some churches stay small because they don’t evangelize. But a small church becomes a “strategically small” church when it starts leveraging the inherent strengths of being small. This should definitely result in people being won for Christ; but the Great Commission doesn’t say anything about all our churches having 1,000 members.
For those of us who can’t wait until the the book goes public, what’s your favorite chapter and why?
My favorite chapter is probably chapter 5, “The Work of the People: the Equipping Church.” This chapter explores how two churches are finding ways to mobilize their church members for ministry, so that the laypeople-and not the pastors-do the majority of the church’s outreach, discipleship, and church-based ministry. Both of these churches are people focused: that is, instead of trying to grow an institution, they are committed to growing disciples. This is risky, in some ways, but it yields dividends for the Kingdom.
I also like this chapter because one of the churches is small, but the other is a megachurch. I think this chapter illustrates well how adapting small church strategies can actually be beneficial for larger churches, too.
What do you hope this book contributes to the overall direction of the Christian church?
I hope that this book will help pastors and church members recognize that every church, however small, has everything it needs to disciple its members and reach people with the Gospel. I hope it will challenge us to reconsider what a “successful” ministry looks like. And I hope it will encourage pastors to stop spending all their energy on growing their churches to a certain size and to start leveraging their gifts for authentic and effective ministry.
The Strategically Small Church is available soon, and in the meantime Brandon is offering a free chapter download at his website. Be sure to check it out.
Tim is a writer hoping that somehow, someway, his work will influence the world in a positive way. He is currently an undergraduate student at North Central University in downtown Minneapolis.