Commentary: A small church is still part of the big mission


The average church size is shrinking. Lifeway Research reported that in 2000, 45% of churches had fewer than 100 in weekly attendance but by 2021, that number had climbed to 65%. Is it time to panic? Should a shrinking church sound the alarm?

In Matthew 28, we learn about the victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, after the resurrection, Matthew tells us, “The eleven disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted” (Matthew 28:16-17, CSB).

Only 11? That doesn’t seem like a large gathering for the victorious Savior. Even within the small gathering that surrounded the resurrected Christ, some worshiped and some doubted. They lacked motivation and urgency, and a shrinking following gathered around the risen Lord. Yet on the mountain, Jesus addressed the small congregation.

What could be done with 11 followers, though? Surely, the risen Christ would advise the small assembly to hold the group together until He returned. Perhaps Jesus would recommend that the small gathering of 11 should blend in or lay low until more people believed.

Absolutely not!

Jesus masterfully proclaimed the church’s global mission to the 11. The number of listeners didn’t discourage Jesus from announcing the mission. Jesus didn’t wait to relay the mission until 3,000 people were added to the church in Acts 2, because it’s not the size of the congregation that legitimizes the mission. All Christ-followers are entrusted with the mission.

So, how can churches of all sizes impact the kingdom of God? Can small churches make a difference? In Matthew 28, we discover three practices that all churches—regardless of their numerical size—can execute to refocus their commitment to the great mission.

1. Revisit the mission

I enjoy routines. But often, I become so absorbed in my daily routine that I can mindlessly move from task to task without thought or purpose. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying routines are bad. However, I confess I’m tempted to set “routine” as the mission of my life. When I do this, anything outside of routine becomes an interruption or an inconvenience to my agenda.

In the same way, churches are often tempted to allow routine to replace the mission. But a church without a mission has an unclear purpose. So, it’s helpful for churches of all sizes to pause from time to time to revisit the mission Christ gave.

As the 11 gathered around Jesus, He said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:18b-19a, CSB).

A church’s clear mission is to make disciples. Churches cannot design a different mission. Jesus gave the mission. A church focused on Christ’s mission has a clear purpose. It knows why it exists, the reason for its location, the direction of its financial statements, the purpose of its Sunday School, the goal of its age-graded ministries, and the motivation for its witness in the community. The great mission of the church is to make disciples.

Revisit Christ’s great mission for your church. Examine your programs, outreach, budget, classes, and meetings with His mission in mind. However, don’t stop with the great mission. Recast the grand vision.

2. Recast the vision

A shrinking group embracing a small mission has limited vision. However, a big mission, no matter the size of the group, leads to a grand vision.

Jesus continued with His 11 disciples, telling them “to make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19, CSB).

Imagine how overwhelmed they would’ve felt hearing, “all nations.” Making disciples in Jerusalem was certainly possible with 11. Expanding outward into Judea was perhaps difficult but achievable. Samaria? Attainable.

However, Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, CSB). Jesus had a great mission and cast a grand vision for the 11.

So how can your church recast Christ’s vision for your church? Begin at home, but don’t take your eyes off the world. Is your church involved with Vacation Bible School? If so, have fun, and create a safe and memorable environment. But disciple making is your mission in Vacation Bible School.

Lead your church to sacrificially give financial support to missionaries across the nation and around the world, and be encouraged that you’ve participated in making disciples of all nations.

One day, by God’s grace, all your efforts in disciple making—great or small—will come to an end. You will stand before the throne of God, but not alone. Disciples from every tribe, nation, and language will join together to praise the One who sits on the throne. So, recast the vision with the end in mind. But recognize the source of your efforts is not your might or strength but your source comes from Christ alone.

3. Recognize the source

Disciple making in the ancient world wasn’t limited to Christianity. Secular philosophers had disciples who followed them and imitated their studying, eating, and sleeping habits. Olympians had followers who imitated and followed their every move and routine. Disciples imitate the master. The church’s mission is to make disciples who imitate and follow the Master.

Jesus finished speaking to the 11 disciples, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-19, CSB).

What comforting words for the disciples. With the nations around them and the great mission before them, the 11 weren’t alone in their mission. Jesus is the source of the mission. Churches, whether large or small, make a difference because Jesus makes a difference.

So don’t let the size of the mission overwhelm your church or distract you from it. Don’t allow the size of your budget, the number of pews in the sanctuary, or the number of livestream views lead you away from the source of your mission. The source of the mission is found in nothing less than Christ alone.

With the nations around you and the great mission before you, your church is not alone in its mission. Recognize the source of the mission promised to be with you always. This means all churches—big or small—can make a difference in the kingdom of God by revisiting the mission, recasting the vision, and recognizing the source of the great mission.

So, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19, CSB).


Drake Caudill is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Carmi, Illinois and DMin student at Liberty University. This column was first published by Lifeway Research.