The idiom, “stake in the ground,” has its origins where someone would claim ownership, responsibility, or priority. For example, tent dwellers would put stakes in the ground to pitch their tents. Everything within the stakes was their land or home. Likewise, homesteaders would put stakes in the ground to mark off their newly claimed land.
At Church Answers, we have put a stake in the ground for smaller churches. In no way are we abandoning larger churches; we simply are being intentional about providing resources for smaller churches. That is our stake in the ground.
When I was CEO of Lifeway, we put several stakes in the ground. For example, we created Lifeway Research so we could help churches and Christians understand trends and directions of congregations and believers. We created the Gospel Project, our stake in the ground for a theologically robust Bible study curriculum. We commissioned a new Bible translation, the Christian Standard Bible, our stake in the ground for a translation that balanced accuracy and readability.
As we have emphasized the importance and resourcing of smaller churches at Church Answers, we have heard from well-intending people that this emphasis is not a good idea. Let me share with you some of the objections. I will then comment with my responses.
- “More people are attending larger churches.” Only 8% of American churches have an attendance above 250, but the majority of churchgoers do attend larger churches. So, we understand the objection. But we see a move back to smaller church gatherings. We would rather partner with smaller churches to help them reach more people rather than assume they don’t have the capability to grow.
- “It’s not good business to focus on smaller churches.” We get it. We would do better financially to put our focus exclusively on larger churches. One person suggested to us we could not stay in business with a smaller church focus. We may be naïve, but we are trusting God instead of a business model. We have already been blessed to have several individuals and churches donate to our sister non-profit organization, Revitalize Network (www.revitalizenetwork.org), to help us provide resources at a much lower cost.
- “Many smaller churches are barely surviving.” Again, that is a true statement. Instead of surrendering to the inevitability of church closings, we are choosing to do everything in God’s power to help these churches survive and thrive. And if some of these churches are indeed about to die, we seek to be a part of a great church adoption movement.
- “Smaller churches do not have the resources to train their leaders and equip their laity.” Again, this statement may be a current reality, but why do we have to accept such a hopeless condition as a future reality? One of the reasons we launched Church Answers University (www.churchanswers.university) was to provide ministry training and theological education that is affordable, attainable, and achievable.
In the near future, I will share with you two more of our stakes in the ground: partnering with global churches and emphasizing personal and church evangelism.
For now, hear me clearly. There is great hope for smaller churches. In many ways their health will parallel the health of all churches in America.
We believe in the smaller churches. We will partner with local churches. We believe in the leaders of smaller churches.
There is much hope for smaller churches.
And we believe the best is yet to come.
Posted on January 9, 2023
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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