It’s not much of a selling point to prospective SBC pastors but one could tell the young theologs that if they believe God is calling them to the pastoral ministry they should expect to spend their ministerial career (a) pastoring a single staff church, and (b) preaching to less than a hundred people each Sunday morning.
Visions of being pastor of a large church of 500 attendance, a midmega church of 1000-2000, or a megachurch with 2000+ each Sunday might occupy some of their unrealistic and idealistic aspirations but the statistics are clear and compelling – there are 46,000 SBC churches but only a couple of thousand have average attendance of 500 or more.
There is nothing wrong with an average sized, single staff congregation and there is a lot of right about them.
The clear, long lasting trend (noted by Thom Ranier in his blog People Migration to Larger Churches) is that larger churches get larger as congregants move away from smaller churches to the big boys.
I’d bet that every pastor of a single staff church has a sad tale about some of his best, most faithful, and most generous members who have left the church for a nearby large or megachurch. These can be hard blows for a small church (I confess to being averse to the term “small” church, preferring “average” which is more appealing and less inclined to elicit sympathy or condescension) and for the small church pastor.
In the SBC there is a lot of hand wringing about the plight of the small church and SBC leadership regularly offer sympathetic laments for small church pastors; however, one should not expect much more than the occasional article. The reality on the ground in SBC life is that smaller churches receive condescension from leaders while mega and large churches receive attention and plaudits.
Convince me I'm wrong about this: In the SBC small is bad, large is better, and mega is best.
So what should the single staff pastor of the average sized church do? I suggest a few things:
1. Drop the attitude that says that your value depends on the size of the crowd you preach to on Sundays or on the size of the staff you supervise.
2. Cultivate the deep personal relationships that come with a congregation where all the members know each other and relate directly to the pastor.
3. Seek that unique ministerial niche in your community that cannot be matched or surpassed by a large or megachurch.
4. Do something radical: consider that approval by God is not gained by increasing congregational size nor is it lost when members leave.
One wonders where the SBC will be a generation or two from now. By all indications the trend from smaller to larger, but fewer, churches will not abate.
The SBC may have significant numbers of churches closing. We may have significant numbers moving to bivocational status.
I don’t know but we may have to adjust our thinking about success in ministry.