This is the first in a series of periodic posts focusing on what it means to be the pastoral leader of a smaller congregation. -Steve


According to research Thom Rainer: We are a nation and continent of smaller churches. And though we have far more small churches than large churches, there is a big migration of people from smaller to larger churches. In other words, many of the smaller churches are getting smaller, and many of the larger churches are getting larger.

Here is a simple depiction of the number of churches at three different levels:

50% of all churches in America average less than 100 in worship attendance.

40% of all churches in America average between 100 and 350 in attendance.

10% of all churches in America average more than 350 in attendance.

Researcher Michael Bell tells us: The average size church in America is 184 and half the churches are 75 or under making that the median size.

These numbers have remained basically the same for the last several years.

Smaller churches generally have a two-person staff: the pastor (who may be full-time or in the smallest churches be bi-vocational) and a church secretary, rarely full-time and often a part-time volunteer.

Although in every church, the pastor or senior pastor is the key leader—in the smaller church the pressure and expectation of him can elevate significantly because in addition to being the pastor, they must also take on the primary responsibilities of an office staff in a larger church.  Sometimes, sadly, even the responsibilities of the janitor.

It should be obvious, therefore, that more time invested in “making the trains run on time” by the pastor—the less time to be either pastor/shepherd or leader.

This is not a situation that can be remedied overnight and as Rainer notes, smaller churches are far more likely to be declining—which means the people and financial resources are diminishing as well—except for some extraordinary gift to the church.

There are five priorities for the pastor/administrator for the small membership church:

  • Determine what this church is uniquely called to do (constantly conveying that a small church cannot do everything and needs to learn to specialize)
  • Identify what programs, etc. are essential to achieving this mission and ruthlessly resisting any attempts to “add on” – which generally leads to a dilution of the quality and often leads to more non-pastoral work for the one “employee”.
  • To do leadership training (often one-on-one) as consistently and frequently as possible
  • Have a clear personal vision of expectations and communicate that to the congregation
  • Organize yourself personally and live that with great discipline.

More on this in a subsequent post – Small Church Pastor: It Begins With You.

© 2018  by Stephen L. Dunn.  You have permission to reprint this provided it is unchanged, proper authorship is cited, it is in a publication not for sale, and a link is provided to this site or to For all other uses, contact Steve at 


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