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Posted November 30, 2010
Church size has been a topic of conversation for quite a few years and this conversation seems to go in cycles - at times bigger is said to better but then at other times smaller is said to be better. Brandon O'Brien seeks to address this topic in his book titled, "The Strategically Small Church." O'Brien was a pastor of smaller churches and that gives him first hand understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the small church. The weaknesses of the small church are easy to recognize and many churches focus on their weaknesses instead of their strengths. O'Brien identifies six strengths that he thinks the small church has over a larger church - evangelism, authenticity, leanness, discipleship, intergenerational ministry and leadership training. He highlights these strengths with actual ministry examples.
I had trouble with this book for three reasons. First of all, O'Brien says that the smaller church has the strategic advantage over the larger in these six areas of ministry. This statement implies that larger churches are not as effective in these six areas of ministry. I don't think that this is a fair statement by O'Brien. Obviously this six areas of ministry will be lived out differently in any size church, but it is very difficult, and ultimately unhealthy, to rank effectiveness according to church size.
Secondly, O'Brien utilizes a very broad category of "small" church. He mainly references churches under 300 in average attendance. This category is way too broad. A church of 300 ministers much differently than a church of 15. For this reason you cannot generalize ministry effectiveness of all churches 300 and smaller.
Finally, unfortunately, O'Brien perpetuates the unhealthy church size conversation cycle. He is saying that smaller is "better" than larger. Just because you are small church does not mean you are effective in these six areas of ministry. And just because you are larger church does not mean you are not effective in these six ministry areas. Playing the comparison game in ministry is never healthy. More often than not it leads to unhealthy conclusions and attitudes.
It some ways I feel this book wasted a great opportunity to highlight areas of ministry that the small church can excel at without comparing to larger churches. In other ways O'Brien does highlight some possible strengths of the smaller church. Read this book with a discerning eye.
I received this book free from Bethany House. Obviously, receiving it free did not affect my review of this book.
Posted October 12, 2010
Vertical Reach = 4
This book shows scriptural and contextual information regarding what God says about the size of a church and the truth about the "numbers" referred to in God's word. Different experiences are shared about how prayer, study and leading of the Holy Spirit empowered pastors and ministry leaders to be BIG enough to embrace being numerically small.
Ministry Message = 5
I've always known this and found it confirmed in God's word but this book says it so beautifully. BIG DOESN'T EQUAL SUCCESS. small doesn't equal failure. Following the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit and staying true to God's word is most important. Strategic and small can be more effective than BIG!
Craft = 5
O'Brien engages the reader with a conversational and easy tone. He offers bible based truth coupled with current data. His writing will appeal and speak to every learning and personality type. The stories are very well read. It is masterfully done. (It can't hurt that he is an editor)
Aesthetics = 5
The internal layout is well done. If I saw this book in a bookstore or on a website the title alone would stop me and cause me to read it.
Dollar$ & $ense = 4.75
The only thing that could have made me give this book a five would have been more details into the interaction between O'Brien and those whose stories he shares showing what transpired in their time with God to bring them to a place of focusing more on being effective than being "successful". Every member of a small church would be encourage by this book and I think EVERY PASTOR AND LEADER should read it. Numbers don't indicate success. BRAVO, Mr. O'Brien.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.
Posted October 11, 2010
The Strategically Small Church by Brandon O' Brien is less about size and more about mind set. In this wonderful and insightful book he explores what the church is, what it should be, and how to get it there. At the center of the discussion is whether the current mega-church model that everyone seems to be clamoring for is truly the best model there is.
The Mega-church model runs from the top down. Paid staff create and execute "programs" for the congregation who behave much like spectators. The pressure is on to create and maintain as many programs or ministries as needed to cover every segment of the demographic. Much money and manpower is required to be all things to all people. In the end the pews are filled with people, but are they just sitting there? Are the individual Christians growing? That is the question. Is a large building and masses of people the true measure of a church's success? If this is the measure of success, why then are so few churches succeeding, since less than one half of one percent of all churches in America have congregations over two thousand?
One problem Brandon sees is that, most churches look at other churches as competition rather than fellow workers for the kingdom of God. Every church feels it must offer every program, just as the mega-churches do, to "win" people to their church. All needs and ministries must be met at one place, since most feel theirs is the only place. This creates a burden that bears heavy on small churches that have limited resources. How can they compete?
The author challenges small churches to quit competing, and instead look to see how they can meet specific needs for the kingdom. There are so many churches in America, must each and everyone have every single strength. Shouldn't some excel in one area and yet another in a differing area? By embracing a church's unique strengths, as opposed to only focusing on what it may lack, its work will be much more beneficial to the kingdom of God. So much more can be accomplished by acknowledging and utilizing the gifts God has given to a particular church as opposed to always seeking those things that appear to be lacking.
So what are some of the strengths that small churches can utilize? This book explains five strengths that the small church has to its advantage: The ability to be authentic, nimble (lean), equipping, inter-generational, and productive in training.
I really enjoyed reading The Strategically Small Church. The book brings to light many issues and methods that are so often overlooked or just taken for granted. The mega- mentality is so persuasive that we don't often realize how much sway it has over us. Brandon O 'Brien challenges us to view our work in light of kingdom growth, rather than just our church. While this method may not lead to prestige and large buildings, it may lead to an even greater reward - To hear our Lord say, "Well done thou good and faithful servant!" (Matt 25:21)
Posted October 3, 2010
Pastor O'Brien understands that the success of a church cannot be measured by numbers - attendants, offerings, buildings, square feet. On the contrary, it is how much the congregation affects the Kingdom of God and gives its members the opportunity of accountability, participation, spiritual growth, intimacy and belonging. Therefore, these would be the indicators of how effective a church is and would allow its members to be confident in their own strengths, impact their community and provide continuous discipleship that even goes beyond generational differences. Moreover, within such principles, Christians will be able to fully use and develop their own skills. From this perspective, the size (whether large of small) of a church or the number of activities is has do not guarantee that people develop a personal relationship with God, nor dependence on Him. By using examples from different churches, this book reminds us that churches cannot be affected by worldly principles and that an institution is never to be given more importance than the mission God gave for the church. It challenges Christians to achieve the opposite, affecting the world, by making church essential to people's lives. Hopefully, people's hearts will be open to learn and be refreshed by what Pastor O'Brien has shared through this highly recommendable book. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for a review. This has not influenced my opinion on the book nor on the author.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 1, 2010
If there is one thing that I, as a pastor of a small church, find annoying about church growth literature it is that it is almost always written by guys who planted churches. This sounds weird, but it is true. Most books on church growth are 'ground-up' books. They start with a plant team and build a church. This is true of Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and any number of other church growth books.
Rare is the book that starts with an existing congregation and shows how it grew. And even rarer still is the book that starts with an existing small congregation and show how it grew in maturity and focus but is still small.
So, you can imagine my excitement coming into the view of The Strategically Small Church by Brandon J. O'Brien. Here was a book with the potential to not only tell me that it is "ok" to be a small congregation, but also that we can be healthy, growing, and small.
O'Brien did not disappoint.
Through real life examples and personal experience, he shows that the fascination with 'big' may very well be detrimental to the health of the church. He spends a considerable number of pages speaking about the ways that big churches are now trying to rediscover the intimacy and authenticity that comes natural to the smaller church.
This is not a perfect small church book. It has its quirks. But it is one of the better books on the small congregation phenomenon (and make no mistake about it, the small congregation is here to stay.)
This review is based on a copy of the book provided free of charge by Bethany House Publishers. I received no financial renumeration for the preceding review.