Big Church in a Small Venue – Part 1

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This is part 1 of a blog series dedicated to building growing churches in smaller venues. If you research the methodology of most church planting organizations you will find they recommend starting in a venue with 300 or more seats. The reason, the size of your venue seems to shape the culture of your church. However, many churches and pastors like me, are fighting the fight to grow beyond limited facilities and build a growing church. Let’s talk excellence in a small venue. If you are going to build a great church it will require excellence. Excellence costs more and requires more, but it also produces more. There are many enemies of excellence, but one that is prevailing in small venues and small churches is particularly damaging to building a healthy culture that leads to growth.

Principle #1: Avoid the “it’s just us mentality”

I remember a Sunday night in the early days of CoastLife Church. We had planned a Team Night where we would assemble all of our staff, volunteers, and those interested in joining the team. With staff, volunteers, and people interested in joining the team we had about 12 people in attendance. We were small and we had limited resources, but we bought into a scripture that night.

Zechariah 4:10 Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin,

I literally tear up now when I read that passage of scripture. We truly believed that even though we were small, God was rejoicing to see the work begin. So how do you despise the day of small beginnings? By subscribing to the “it’s just going to be us” mentality. Our team made a decision that in spite of the fact that our average attendance was 30, we would operate with excellence as if we were a church of 300. For us, excellence was tied to our love of people. If we loved people we would operate with excellence. When someone special is coming to your home you typically clean more than usual, use better dishes than your every day plates and cups, and maybe even light candles and add some special elements. Our thought was, very special people are coming to God’s house this Sunday, we are going to attend to every detail, put out our best, and then add some special touches. Now that we are a church that has exceeded the 300 mark, this principle still guides us. The trap for small churches is that we don’t put in the effort to create an atmosphere of excellence because “it’s just going to be us.” It may just be your team of 12 people, but do it right, because God is rejoicing to see the work begin.

Here are some thoughts on excellence to keep a healthy culture in a small venue:

1. Excellence is connected to your love of people. Very special people are coming to God’s house this weekend. How can we do our best?

2. Excellence is connected to our love of Jesus. We have church for The One. If “no one shows up” we are still having service for “The One.” Regardless of the crowd size we are still conducting a worship service in the name of Jesus Christ. If we are going to attach the name of Jesus to our service, then we should give it our very best.

3. Excellence is connected to our love of the church. I love the House of God and I want the very best for it. I believe Hillsong Church in Australia coined the phrase, “Heart for the House.” When you have a heart for God’s house you will get there early, stay late, attend to details, and make sure it operates at its very best. When it’s in my heart to build God’s house, I will do this regardless of the crowd size. I will do it because I love His house.

The “it’s just us mentality” becomes a self fulfilling prophecy for many churches. Fight the fight, keep the faith, and operate with excellence because you love Jesus, people, and the church.

Big Church in a Small Venue

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Over the next few weeks I will be writing my thoughts and experiences about having a growing church in a small venue. For the purposes of this blog I will define a small venue as one that seats less than 200 people. Like it or not, the size of your venue will greatly alter the culture of your church. A small venue can be a trap that forever snares a church as a “small church.” Many churches have a much larger vision than their facilities, but because of the venue they get trapped in a small church culture. The small church culture then chokes the life out of the big dreams and vision of the church. I believe there are several cultural points that have to be dealt with to ensure the vision and culture stay in alignment to cultivate an atmosphere of growth.

Here is the list of upcoming blogs:

– Excellence (Sloppy is bigger in a smaller venue)

– Energy/Atmosphere (It’s not in your facility, you will have to create it)

– Awkward Vision (Yes, I know there are only 8 people in the room, but you will have to cast a big vision anyway)

– OMG Kids (the g is for goodness and not God cause that would be sacrilegious)

– Multiservice/Chairology

My qualifications on this subject are as follows:

– I pastor a church of 350 people in a venue that comfortably holds 150 chairs. If we max out the chairs and diminish aisle ways we can get an extra 20-25 chairs. A comfortable seating arrangement is approximately 150 chairs.

– Our total square footage is 7,000 sq ft. When we started it was 5,600 sq ft.

– Our largest crowd to date has been 530 people in a facility that comfortably seats less than 200.

Let’s talk… would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on the subject.