How Small Churches Make the Biggest Impact

The Long Tail

In Chris Anderson’s book, “The Long Tail” he talks about the part of the economy that is now accessible to everyone. His premise is that retail used to be all about “hits.” These were the only things people bought because the hits were the only thing they were aware of. Because of the internet, we now have access to the millions of products that are not hits. Millions of dollars are now spent on downloading songs that very few people know about, or products that are marketed to a specific group of people. Niche markets now actually have a market.

As I read the book, I thought about how the “long tail” applies to churches. For at least the last 100 years, there have been “hit” churches. These were large churches with “famous” pastors. As it is today, most of these churches were known because the pastor wrote books or had his sermons on the radio. Someone told me that during World War II, the two largest churches in Detroit had their attendance numbers published in the local paper each week. Of course, it became a competition of who had the larger attendance.

The Big Church

With television, the “hit” churches increased both in size and influence. Television, combined with radio, created more church “hits” (meaning a lot of people).

It was largely media that helped to create the “Megachurch” (loosely defined as 2,000 or more average attendance). There are now more megachurches than ever.

But the story of the long tail is the story of the virtually unknown and little-known churches that make up the majority of churches around the world. Here in America, it is not the megachurches who have the greatest impact. It’s the small churches made up of people from the surrounding community who are doing the majority of the work in spreading the gospel.

The Small Church

The megachurches get the recognition…but the small churches are doing the heavy lifting.

I’m not saying that megachurches are not having an impact. They are, and in some cases, they are able to reach greater numbers of people in shorter time frames. But thinking strategically, for any given community or area, would it be better to have one church with 5,000 people or 50 churches with 100 people?

From a hypothetical standpoint, I think the 50 churches with 100 people could be more effective because you would have a greater diversity of outreach and evangelism. The problem is, that if you have 50 churches, I can guarantee that some of those churches will do very little to impact the Kingdom of God. They will become country clubs instead of hospitals. As an aggregate, small churches are doing most of the work for the Kingdom, but there are some communities with a lot of churches that are not having any impact on their community.

The Choice

Just because there is a church “on every corner” in a community, does not mean that those churches are doing anything for the Kingdom.

Not every church should stay open. Some churches really have no reason to exist.

But the rest of the small churches are changing the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Going to a church because you “liked the service” is one of the worst reasons to go to a church.

The big churches have a huge advantage in this way. You are much more likely to enjoy the service at a large church because of the money they put into the service to produce a high level of entertainment.

Go to a church in your community, preferably a small one, that is making an impact for the Kingdom of God.

Eugene Peterson, a pastor for 30 years and author of The Message, when asked what advice he would give on finding a church, said, “Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher.”

I think that’s great advice.

About Matthew Thisse

Matthew Thisse is a Jesus follower, single father, associate pastor, and corporate trainer. He is a former Evangelical and a failed fundamentalist.

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