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Why Small Churches Are the Next Big Thing
There’s no shortage of studies bemoaning the next generation’s exodus from the Church. Yet while some have written off Millennials' spiritually, this is a mistake—for the Church and for the Millennials.
In the face of this reality, a new opportunity is emerging. In fact, there’s growing evidence this new generation will bring the greatest opportunity for small church ministry in 2,000 years.
Why? Because, as the first generation with a majority born and raised outside traditional marriage, genuine relationships and intimate worship—what small churches do best—will matter more to them than it did to their parents.
But this opportunity comes with one, big condition: Millennials won’t give up quality to gain intimacy. And they shouldn’t have to.
Of course, Millennials have the same spiritual needs people have always had, including the desire to worship something or someone bigger than themselves, and to do so with others who have similar inclinations. In other words, Millennials need church.
But not just any church, and not the churches their parents built. Millennials are used to a high-quality experience in everything, and they won’t settle for less. In addition, Millennials don’t want a big Sunday morning stage show as much as they want genuine intimacy and relationships.
So how can churches provide this?
Simply put, churches can start small. Small doesn’t mean cheap, shoddy, lazy or low-quality—at least it shouldn’t. But what Millennials mean by quality will also be different than what their parents meant.
Too often, for Boomers, quality has meant excess. Glitz. Over-the-top. Bling. For any kind of church, however, quality can be summed up in one word: health. Health starts by getting the basics right.
Real-world Bible teaching
Practical ministry opportunities
Clean, safe childcare
And yes, competent musicianship on the worship team
The good news is, your church doesn’t have to be big to do any of this. And even if one or two elements aren’t at the level you’d like, you can build on them if there’s high quality in other areas. People may even be compelled to step up and help where the church is weak.
Without such health, it’s no wonder Millennials aren’t interested in going to church. In a
, the Pew Forum found what everyone has suspected: Millennials attend church less often than their parents.
But that’s not all. “Among Millennials
who are affiliated with a religion,
however, the intensity of their religious affiliation is as strong today as among previous generations when they were young” (
So, fewer of them attend religious services, but among those who do, their faith is as strong as ever. Their faith, instead of fading, is being carefully refined. And as typically happens when you find yourself in the minority, that dedication is likely to grow.
Studies about church demographics and attendance work well to illustrate the problem, but what we need next is to start working together toward a solution. What if we paved the way in showing the world what loving one another really looks like?
There’s no better place to express or sense that kind of love-leadership than in a small church. For this reason, I believe small churches are uniquely poised to meet the needs of Millennials and perhaps turn the tide on the trend of the unchurched.
No, megachurches won’t disappear, despite all the predictions to the contrary. And I hope they don’t. I hope any church preaching Christ and His gospel of grace continues to continue its good work.
Alongside megachurches, however, I see a growing hunger for healthy, high-quality, innovative small churches to meet the needs of upcoming generations.
The main reason I’m convinced small churches will be the next big thing is because they’ve
been a big thing. Since the day of Pentecost, innovative small churches have been the way the majority of Christians have done church. They’ve just stayed under the radar for 2,000 years.
If healthy small churches can provide opportunities for genuine relationships with God and each other—with practical ministry to the surrounding community—we can be the vanguard of a new church movement. Of course, it really won’t be a new movement—it will be the oldest one of all.
Karl Vaters is the pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California. He's the author of the recently published
The Grasshopper Myth
and founder of
, a site dedicated to encouraging, connecting and equipping innovative small church pastors. Follow Karl on Twitter:
Editor's Note: Image by
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