Finding Leadership for the Small Church
"Small" is relative. In Texas, land of vast distances and megachurches, a congregation of 150 souls may rank as tiny indeed. In Nevada and Montana or even West Texas, a church of that number might be seen as one of the larger congregations.
One thing we know, small congregations fight a never-ending battle for money to pay the pastor a living wage, money to cover the regular bills plus invest in missions, and money to maintain a decent program. Leaders of small churches are forever looking for ways to be more effective with limited resources.
Decision-makers of such congregations might want to take a lesson from the owner of a major league baseball team situated in one of the smaller markets in this country. Stu Sternberg is principal owner of the Tampa Bay Rays, Florida's American League baseball team. In the June 30, 2008, issue of "ESPN Magazine," Sternberg shared "8 things you should know about running a small-market baseball team."
In his article, we can find clues and insights here for a business or church being dwarfed by the big guys and having to get creative to stay competitive or effective.
1) Timing is everything.
Sternberg says there is no point in his team paying big bucks for a player he cannot afford to keep. So, what he does is watch for windows of opportunity, a moment when a qualitied player might be available for fewer dollars due to circumstances. A small church may scrounge enough money to fund an ambitious program one time, but then what will it do? Better to prayerfully find the kinds of ministry suitable to their church, their mission field, their resources. Nothing is more important than seeking in prayer the will of the One who is the Sole Owner of your church.
2) Follow those Marlins.
Sternberg's team learned from the Florida Marlins, a bigger-market team in his state, but still not in the running with New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago. To stay competitive, the Marlins built a farm system which would take young players and prepare them for the majors, added key players for only two years at a time, and learned how to let stars move to other teams when they could no longer afford to keep them. In a small church the leadership team must be regularly seeking “younger leaders” and training them in the “farm system.”
3) We have to pick well....
Sternberg says a team with little money will find its best future in selecting young players with great potential and investing in them. You take chances, he pointed out, but you have no other choice.
4) ...And scout well.
Scouting--for the non-sports fans among us--refers to the process of checking out teams far and wide to find new talent. For the church, it may mean the leadership opening their eyes to great leadership inside the local church or a neighboring congregation. Wise leaders are always scouting for potential helpers.
5) ...Because we can't pay well.
When a great player comes available as a free agent, even if his team doesn't have the money to compete with the big boys, Sternberg says they don't rule out trying to get him, but not with money. They try to find out what else the player is interested in. One pitcher wanted to be a closer and the Rays gave him that opportunity. Another longed to live in central Florida near his home.
A church should not automatically rule out a potential pastor or staff member who may be "priced out of your market." Remember, God leads the calling process!
6) We pull for other teams.
Sternberg points out that baseball clubs in small-market teams often need each other's help to be able to compete with the large, wealthier teams. Leaders in the local congregation might build networks of friends in other churches whom they love and respect. Then, when they are looking for an idea, seeking a staff member, or trying to solve a problem, this network will often provide answers and unexpected resources.
7) Small things are big.
"We don't draw (crowds) like the Yankees," Sternberg writes, "so we have to give extras." The Rays' ballpark, he says, offers free parking, impressive restrooms, and the best hotdogs in the country.
Churches of all sizes would do well to seize their uniqueness and emphasize that in their community. Trying to do everything the big churches do will guarantee only failure and frustration since they don't have resources to compete. However, every church of any size has strengths in the talents and abilities of its members. Leaders will do well to take advantage of the potential God has built into their congregation and no other.
8) Designate this.
In the American League, teams are allowed to have a player called the Designated Hitter. Almost always, the DH is an older player no longer quick in the field or fast on his feet but still with hitting power at the plate. The DH does not play defense, but merely bats. Sternberg says, "We don't have the money to pay a player who doesn't field." So, the Tampa Bay team does not have a DH.
It's a wise church leader who decides his congregation does not need every innovation and trapping the big churches feel are necessary.
Another clue for the small church looking for great leadership: It's all around you, just waiting to be recognized and developed. God blesses your ministry in whatever place He has placed you!