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Leadership in smaller churches 

There are many encouragements amid the challenges of leading smaller churches, including growing network support, writes Hilary Taylor

Small Church

Small church is a big deal in our Baptist Union. There are approximately 1000 churches with fewer than 40 members across the country. This makes up half our denomination. Leaders in small churches ideally need experience, love, patience and diplomacy among their gifting.


There is much encouragement in leading a smaller church:

  • In a small church leaders tend to know everyone well

  • Decisions at church meetings are put into action quickly

  • There is often high commitment and support from the members

  • People can be encouraged to step out and take risks

  • A small church can be like a hospital, where a GP (minister) and specialists ‘fix’ broken people

  • With small numbers leaders can more easily use different styles of teaching to suit the congregation. In an average group, there are different learning styles: 20% of people are auditory - listeners

  • 40% of people are visual - pictures

  • 40% of people are tactile - movers and doers

  • How do you put across God's truth in a way that people enjoy and remember?Visuals, objects or activities are often easier to use in small churches.

…. and challenges

There are also many challenges about leading smaller churches:

  • It is important to know everyone’s gift and give jobs to suit skills

  • Many small churches face money issues

  • Leaders don’t want to see the church close on their watch

  • Leaders often do too many jobs, get tired and sometimes burnout

  • There tends to be a lack of skills for secretary and treasurer roles

  • Intense relationships in smaller churches can lead to compromise on big decisions

  • There is often a high percentage of people with life issues

  • Facing building issues can be emotional rather than practical 


Leadership in smaller churches

Leadership operates on a variety of levels determined by the time and resources available. There are full time leaders, part time leaders and bi-vocational leaders, who juggle a part time job alongside their part time church work. There are leaders who have a full time job and lead the church in their spare time and there are students who are part time at College and part time in a local church. There are also reluctant leaders, who are happy to be deacons but suddenly find themselves in a position of church leadership in times of a pastoral vacancy. Leaders of smaller churches are both men and women, although it is interesting to note that in the Baptist family 80 per cent of women ministers are working in churches with 40 members or fewer. 
To see a group of God’s people develop in their faith and reaching out in service to the local community is a rewarding job at every level.

The role of the congregation

In a small church, you may look around the congregation and not see potential leaders. Pray that God would show you His thoughts on this, and if He shows you someone, be bold enough to take risks with them. It could be that your prayer has to be for a new person to come to fill the role.

The relationships built in a church are key to a leader’s enjoyment of the job. Everyone will be happy to commit and work hard in a friendly, relaxed environment. Smaller churches are more relationship driven rather than programme driven and the relationships can be quite intense. New leaders and new members may find it hard to penetrate established friendship circles.

It’s small… but it’s God’s church!

It is important to remember that God knows each church – its limited resources, the level of energy, of time and skills. It is His church and He has a plan for reaching people with the gospel. Rather than trying good ideas, it’s important to be doing God ideas. Do a few things well and always strive for excellence.

God uses the leader who has a dream, is willing to risk failure, expects the church to grow and who never gives up. This may well involve change - if you want something you've never had before, you'll have to do something you've never done before.

Supporting each other

Associations across our Baptist Union are doing something they have never done before. The Small Church Connexion - part of the London Baptist Association (LBA) - has been running day conferences, celebrations, resources days, retreats and workshops for the 112 small churches in London since 2003. They have recently inspired other Associations to replicate the idea. The Regional Teams all work well with the smaller churches but gathering them together for day conferences is a new thing. This has been very well received and from the days together has come small church newsletters, databases and training. This works in various ways across our Union, and it’s my hope that our smaller churches now feel that they have not been forgotten and love networking with others who understand church life for 40 people or less.

Hilary Taylor is the Small Church Enabler for the London Baptist Association, and a member of Ashford Common Baptist Church.
She is the author of a book and a blog called A Toolbox for Smaller Churches


This article first appeared in the Spring 2017 edition of Baptists Together magazine, which focused on leadership



Baptist Times, 02/02/2017
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