As we started this series on church size, I mentioned the poor-little-me syndrome that occurs with volunteers in many small churches. But there are some definite positives to being in a small church.
Making a Difference
For one thing, it is easier for volunteers to see where they make a difference. The same volunteer who is chairman of the deacons may also teach the only children’s Sunday morning Bible study class. At Christmas, the choir has to have all hands on deck or there is no program. It’s harder for people to fall through the cracks — everyone is needed for something — and people seldom wander the halls unattached.
It is easier to help, too. Volunteers don’t have to be experts since jobs in a small church are less specialized. A jack-of-all-trades is highly valued.
Haven for the Young and Old
Although generalists are valued, many small churches are blessed to have older members who bring expertise and wisdom. Some small churches are blessed with young members who are highly enthusiastic and willing to find a way to get a job done. These same younger and older members are attracted to the small church when they get crowded out by staff or mainstream members in a larger church.
The skills and interests of the individual members of small churches tend to shape the church’s personality and strong points. As a result, each small church is unique — sometimes novel, sometimes innovative, sometimes quirky, sometimes bordering on cultish.
This uniqueness can be a strength that carries volunteers through hard times. But it can also insulate them from beneficial change and engaging the culture around them. A good antidote to this drawback is to interact often in training workshops that draw an attendance from multiple churches. Denominations, Christian publishers, and non-profit ministries offer lots of options to cross-pollinate with participants from other churches.
There are a couple of unexpected things about volunteers in a small church:
Core, Not Clique
First, small groups that hang together in a large church are known as a clique (with all the negative connotations). In a small church, that same group is the church core. Yes, they may need to soften their edges to let newcomers in, but the solid relationships they have forged over time are the foundation of the church’s resilience.
Second, the budget in a small church may look miniscule and locked in, but that is not the whole story. Volunteers in small churches often reach into their own pockets — because they can, with such small numbers — to fund things that really matter to them. And sometimes they foot the bill for the fun fluff!
The key to taking advantage of the small church is to find the up-sides of having a small campus, small numbers, and a close network.
- Use chatter in the network to encourage others in a round-about way. Example: Talk up what some volunteer did and share your appreciation for them. Positive attitudes spread even faster than gossip!
- Use the instances where economy of scale works in reverse. Example: Meet off-campus at a local ice cream parlor. Example: Buy a fun (or inspirational) book for all of your volunteer team.
- Use the established familiarity. Example: When you need help, tap into what people know of each other and their talents.
Small churches are great, and the volunteers in them matter!