From Whence Does My Help Come?

It May Just Come from the Mid-Sized Church

I've written many times over the years about my belief that the most vulnerable churches (and church musicians/worship leaders) these days are those "in the middle." Today I heard of another mid-sized church that, rather than close, elected to "reverse merge" into the church from which it was planted some thirty years before, and it made me think it is time to revisit my belief on this issue.

For those of you who have been reading my stuff for awhile it isn't new news that I've been around the block a few times, and my life experience involves a lot of roles and places. Those facts (and a relatively good, if not always unbiased memory) have contributed to a more-and-more active role as cultural observer and story teller...because, in the end, telling the story of what you know and think and have observed is really how one generation transmits the "important stuff" to the next. Hence, this article. My standard disclaimer applies here: your results may vary...

Why Mid-Sized Churches are (and continue to be) Vulnerable

This "fact" comes from simple observation, and a bit of common sense:
• Large churches (over 1500 in worship for our purposes) have enough capital resources to provide a lot of program and staff, and, save for something catastrophic, generally can survive a staffing or program mistake.
• Small churches (under 200 in worship for our purposes) may lack the program and staff resources of large churches, but, save for highly visible exceptions, have enough relational resources to survive a staffing or program mistake.
• Mid-sized churches generally have neither the capital nor the relational resources to survive any kind of mistake.

In my definition of the givens (above) that leaves a lot of churches vulnerable. Need more evidence?

How many churches do you know that went from several hundred to considerably less (or gone) based upon a disconnect on what worship should be between the triangle of the pastor, the musician, and the congregation? How many churches do you know that went from a few hundred to more than a thousand (or even more) based as a result of a "perfect storm" of decisions about worship?

I'll answer my own question: a lot, and a lot.

Mid-Sized Churches are Where the Action Is

In a sense, the mid-sized churches are where the action is. Large churches (at least in this country) tend to get more bureaucratic, and small churches tend to be unable to support more that the magic 200 because that's where, anthropologically speaking, the relational ties get to be unstable. In short, in a large church you tend to hear: "we're here for the [fill in the blank] program, which is great, but we don't know many people," while in a small church you tend to hear: "[fill in the blank] used to attend here, but they left for [fill in the blank] church because they had [fill in the blank] program." The opposite can be equally true, however. For a large church: "I love the fact that they never ask me to do anything," and for a small church: "I feel so at home here because I know everybody."

Back to the action part. Mid-sized churches always seem to be investigating and trying something new..the Alpha course; the 40 Days of Purpose; becoming more missional; hosting a concert series; hosting a food bank or a homeless shelter; the list is (almost) endless. Once you understand that, you understand why mid-sized churches, in many ways, are laboratories. It is from the crucible of need, opportunity, and solution brainstorming, that you get the Alpha course, and many of the rest of the programs that are now in use all over the church landscape.

Including musical style. (You knew it would come to this at some point, right?) Need some examples? Brooklyn Tab; Hillsong, Thomas Road, to name some of the more famous ones. These styles became famous, in part, because they WORKED someplace, and because the marketplace packaged them and marketed them. The latter half of that statement is one of fact, not one of judgement, by the way.

Mid-Sized Churches Play the Greatest Hits

Having worked in mid-sized churches, I can tell you that (don't judge this now, until you've thought about it) they are a lot like the "cover band" you find at most any urban Holiday Inn on a weekend...they play someone else's greatest hits. There are a lot of very reasonable reasons for this:

• it is simpler to buy pre-packaged resources than it is to invent and refine something unique
• there are enough volunteers to man (and woman) pre-packaged resources because the parameters of delivering those resources generally do not involve a large time commitment on the part of those volunteers: they are plug & play as it were...
• the mid-sized church tends to be swayed more by the success of someone else's church/program -- they tend to compare up rather than down, which means you hear a lot of "if we could only get to be as [fill in the blank] as [fill in the blank] church, then we'd be [fill in the blank, but the word that is seldom used, but entirely accurate nonetheless is "better"]

The other pressure point in a mid-sized church is that when they take in new members, which they do, they tend to come from a variety of prior experiences. And this is the important point, they are in the mid-sized church because the WANT something they can't get at a small church or a large church. Generally they want more program than in a small church, but more input/influence than in a large church.

Here's how those pressure points generally play out: "At [fill in the blank] where I used to attend, we had this great [fill in the blank], and..."

Mid-Sized Churches Need Help

So why is all this important to you as a church musician or worship leader? Especially if you don't work in a mid-sized church?

Because mid-sized churches need help. And no, that's not a perjorative statement. Let me count (some of) the ways...

• Help to find out who they are, rather than what fad they need to adopt
Help to grow their own talent rather than force square peg volunteers into round peg holes
• Help to think beyond the next curriculum (or cantata] cycle and determine what they need for who they are, or are going to be
• Help to design, develop, and build successful programs that can serve (in some form) as models for other churches
and most importantly...
• Help to understand that there is no other church exactly like them, and that being who they actually are is better than "trying on" a different church model every planning cycle

Mid-Sized Churches are Like Gentrification

Which is why mid-sized churches are where all the fun is, as long as you aren't a stick-in-the-mud, a know-it-all, a worry-wart, or a whiner. It is why mid-sized churches are where all the stress is ( colleagues in large and small churches will disagree with that wholeheartedly, but go with me for purposes of illustration, ok...I like to use parallelisms). If you can handle the stress, and the fun, mid-sized churches are where the opportunity is, and where real individual-church-based solutions can make a huge difference.

Mid sized churches are like neighborhoods that are undergoing gentrification. Old/run down things can be fixed and it improves everything around them. In this particular case, to mix metaphors, a rising program/ministry can float all boats in a mid-sized church.

Mid-Sized Churches Provide the Greatest Opportunity


Think about who your church is, no matter what size it is. Don't compare up or down, but be fiercely objective. Think about who your church is becoming, by looking objectively at your community and region. You don't have to be a social scientist to know that if you have a manufacturing plant in your town that is barely holding on, your town is going to change depending upon whether or not they survive or reinvent themselves.

Think about whether the ministry you lead really serves who your church is. Not whether it serves what you want your church to be, although there is no reason not to try to be a change agent. But if you, and your ministry are not "with" your church, in some ways you are part of the problem. Now I can hear the wailing in the back of the interwebs: "but you don't understand me or my situation." My point exactly. I'm not telling how to fix the situation you are in, but I am telling you that if you are part of the problem, your choices are to be part of the solution or be part of the unemployed.

It just might be, at the end of the process, that a mid-sized church's help comes from the Lord, through you.

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