When Bethany House offered me this book to review, I was intrigued by the title since I have experienced the most “hands-on” ministry over the years in the small churches I’ve attended rather than the large mega-churches. We have moved to different parts of the country and been involved with various sizes of churches, and I have generally experienced more opportunities to be actively involved in ministry in the small churches. The problem is, of course, that pastors are being trained in seminaries in ways to make their churches grow in numbers. Success is measured in the church world in increased numbers. But just as real, genuine success is measured in the Christian life by relationship with Jesus Christ, true success of churches should be measured by commitment to ensuring that relationship in individual members and reaching out into the community and trying to cause that type of relationship to develop for each person reached.
Mr. O’Brien offers examples of churches and ministries where some of his principles have been applied and the resulting successes (successes by a spiritual standard, not a worldly standard). I found this fascinating because I have experienced churches with very small congregations and a dynamic missions outreach and I have experienced mega-churches with little going for them but “inreach” – entertaining each other with parties and outings. No one is saying a mega-church can’t do effective ministry, but at least one pastor Mr. O’Brien cited in this book found that planting smaller churches instead of building ever-larger buildings for his growing congregation led to more effective ministry and that those smaller churches were dynamic forces in their communities. As the author puts it, “small churches are uniquely equipped to carry out what perhaps are the three most important functions of the church: evangelism, discipleship (including leadership development), and passing the faith from one generation to the next.”
I would recommend this book to all pastors and lay leaders who are struggling with the concept of successful church development. It will be extraordinarily freeing for many to realize that success need not be measured in quantity but more important is (spiritual) quality – a reliance on the Holy Spirit to guide and direct the ministry.