The book suggests one thing and then offers another. For a no formula book, it weaves one through out its pages. To me, small churches are not 300 members but less than 100. The points O'Brien makes that supposedly supports the strengths of the small church are not strengths, but only functions of size. He indicates big churches are inflexible and cannot maneuver in the market place for souls. To me, O'Brien misses the mark. I was disappointed. Sorry.
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.
Growing up in a small church provided me many opportunities to minister and for that I am very thankful. With the growth of mega-churches the small church has often struggled with how to increase numbers. I just finished reading the Strategically Small Church, by Brandon J.Obrien, and I am recharged and ready for action. This book outlines the strengths of smaller churches, our ability to build relationships, and opportunities for multi-generational ministry. I found this book very interesting and I would encourage all deacons, church leaders and pastors of smaller churches to read this book. I find the idea of program sharing very interesting, and hope
to implement what I have learned in my ministry opportunities. Excellent work. I would give this book 4 stars. This book was given to me for purpose of review by Bethany House publishers.
The Stategically Small Church is a refreshing book. It affirms the small church in its smallness. Not the ineffective, uncaring smallness that prays for "me and my four, and no more". It affirms the fact that smallness isn't a bad thing, but can be strategically used to honor God and minister to others.
In the Christian world bigger seems to be better. It seems that we have bought into the world's idea that size equals worth. O'Brien counters that with the fact that a small church may not be able to do everything that big churches can, but they can do things big churches can't.
Small churches can be nimble, move quickly, can be unhindered by beauracracy, and can be authentic. Not all small churches are like that, and there is no glory in being small for small's sake. The potential is there, however.
Small churches have great potential to foster relationships, reach out to the troubled with care and compassion, and minister in a way that is felt in the heart. Why? Because in small churches practically everyone knows everyone. It also means that the membership is the ministry much more than in the large church. Everyone has the opportunity to be involved.
One thing that I truly like is the emphasis made on intergenerational focus. We often feel that we MUST have youth groups. O'Brien states that we can have everyone worshiping together and working together. That is a good thing that bridges the so-called generation gap.
Many positive things could be said about this book. In fact, I must say that I intend to read it again so that I can get more out of it.
What about negatives? I think that would simply be the fact that there is a need for some "how to" on overcoming the problems that are so common to small churches: one man leadership, cliques and schisms, family rule, democratic process that sometimes equals mob rule, etc. In the end, however, I know that everything can't be contained in one book. Perhaps a sequel?