Church & Culture
Big Cities Need Great Small Churches, Too
Alongside big churches, we need an explosion of smaller, niche churches to infiltrate neighborhoods and challenge us to think differently.

Small churches aren’t just for small towns.

There are thousands of small churches in big cities and sprawling suburbs, too.

But there aren’t enough of them.

Yes, you read that right. The problem with the church in big cities isn’t that we have too many small churches, it’s that we don’t have enough of them.

Big churches in big cities are great. And we need more of them. But big cities also need a lot more healthy, innovative, outward-reaching, God-honoring, neighborhood-blessing small churches.

Why? Because big city people like small churches, too.

When Big City People Have Small Church Needs

Some people love being in a really big room for really big church services. The size of the crowd inspires and encourages them. When they worship Jesus, they see that they are a part of something far bigger than themselves. The crowd helps draw them into a deeper place of faith. And that’s great.

A lot of people worship and minister best in smaller settings.

But a lot of people worship and minister best in smaller settings. They’re drawn into a place of deeper faith through a worship experience that is more intimate and relational. The size, structure and spectacle of the bigger church is a distraction to them. It doesn’t draw them in, it puts them off.

And that doesn’t change just because they live in a big city.

In fact, people are typically lonelier in big cities and sprawling suburbs than they are in small towns and rural areas. The bigger the city, the lower the depth of individual relationships. So they’re looking for connection and intimacy. They’re looking for family.

They don’t get that in their cubicle at work, on the freeway drive home, as they punch the remote control on their garage, or in front of their television all evening.

Cities Need Better Churches – Both Big and Small

Most of the world’s population lives in cities, now (54 percent, according to one study). And that percentage increases every year. As the cities grow, the personal, relational and spiritual needs of people will grow, too.

If people are going to get out of bed on Sunday morning when they can stay at home and watch church on TV or the internet, there’s only one reason they’ll do that. Relationship.

Face-to-face matters. Intimacy matters. Worshiping Jesus with other people in the same room matters.

Small churches are how many people choose to answer that need. But, now more than ever, they are putting one condition on their small church experience and expectation – especially in big cities. The church needs to be doing good ministry. Small is not an excuse for doing church poorly. People won’t give up quality to gain intimacy. And they shouldn’t have to.

Big cities don’t just need bigger churches. We need better churches. Of all sizes.

A Call to Action

I have a request to pastors and church leaders who, like me, may not be called or gifted to lead a big church.

To all the pastors longing to do something other than church-as-usual. To all the potential church planters asking God to show them where to plant. Consider this.

Take a serious look at planting a healthy, innovative, friendly, outward-reaching small church in a big city or suburb.

Take a serious look at planting a healthy, disciple-making, friendly, outward-reaching small church in a big city or suburb. Or leading an existing big city small church in a much-needed turnaround towards innovative worship, discipleship and outreach.

If you feel called to a small town or rural area, by all means do that with all your heart. They need great small churches, too. But please don’t think that the only kinds of churches that work in big cities are big churches.

Big cities need small churches that fit into local neighborhoods. That meet niche needs. That speak to a segment of the population no one else is reaching.

The poor, the disenfranchised, the outcast, the forgotten – of all ages. These are the kinds of people our cities are filled with that may not be reached by any church at all, right now.

Think Different

Planting or remaking a great small church in a big city won’t be easy. You’ll face a lot of opposition. Maybe even from established churches and church leaders who can’t see what you see.

But do it anyway.

Figure out how to do small church in a big city. Even if the way you do it has never been done quite that way before.

Think different. Think quirky. Think niche.

Start a coffee shop church in Portland, a bohemian loft church in Manhattan or an artist’s studio church in Brussels, Belgium.

Calling Millennials and Bivocationals

I’m putting this call out with two types of people in mind: innovative church leaders and bivocational pastors. We need you.

We need innovative church leaders who aren’t constrained by how we’ve always done things. People who will try impossible things because they don’t know they’re impossible.

And we need church leaders who have a source of income outside the ministry. Let’s face it, a bake-your-own-bread-while-we-talk-about-Jesus church might meet some people’s needs for intimate fellowship and worship – and good food. But it will never attract enough people or money to buy a building or pay for a full-time pastor in a big city.

That’s one of the advantages of strategic small churches. They don’t need full-time pastors or their own building. They need committed, patient, innovative leaders.

Is this what the church of the future will look like in our cities? Maybe, alongside our big-and megachurch friends, we’ll see an explosion of smaller, niche churches that can infiltrate neighborhoods, inspire and encourage non-traditional spiritual seekers and challenge the traditional church to think differently.

If this idea has struck a chord in you, don’t shrug it off. Sit with it for a while. Pray about it. Talk with a mentor.

Then, if you feel the call, step out in faith. Our cities need you. And so does the church.

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.

October 17, 2016 at 9:10 AM

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