Small Church, Big Worship – Numbers Matter by Jon Nichol

Small Church, Big Worship: Numbers Matter by Jon Nicol

Big Worship: Numbers Matter

It’s time to break free from ‘what could be’ and embrace what you are now. No one walks into a church of 100 and expects Hillsong United. But there is a slight disappointment when “Mighty to Save” isn’t that, well, mighty.

Numbers matter. I know I’m not supposed to say that. But when it comes to corporate worship, they do. The number of singers. The number of instruments. The number of hours put into planning and preparing the worship gathering. The number of dollars spent on the worship space – lighting, sound, décor. And the number of people that fill that space – there’s a difference between a group of 60 and 150. Between 225 and 700. Between a 1000 and 20,000.

But it’s more than quantifiable. There’s also a qualitative difference. At the extreme, think Broadway versus a community theater–both performing the same musical.

I was hired to play guitar in the pit orchestra for a local theater’s summer production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Turns out, the director had some connections – he scored a Dreamcoat actually worn by Donny Osmond during several of his 2000 performances in the Toronto production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. We had the same coat. We had the same script. We had the same music. We even had the wireless mics, the make-up, the lighting, the union musicians (except me…long, boring story), the velvet curtains and the glowing marquee. But Broadway (or the Canadian equivalent) still did it better. Broadway will always do it better. Better sets. Better actors. Better direction. Better lighting. Better sound. Better orchestra. Better wardrobe. All of it. Hands-down better.


Only an idiot would sit in the Renaissance Theater in Mansfield, Ohio and say, “Donny Osmond was a way better Joseph.”

We don’t judge a group of volunteer actors and underpaid community theater staff by the same criteria as a Broadway production.

But in Western Christianity, we have people holding churches of 50 and 150 up to the standards of a church of 500, 2000, and even 20,000. Wait, let me make a correction: we are the people holding churches to those unrealistic standards. We don’t mean to. It’s just human nature to compare apples to apples – church to church. But the comparison is more like apples to orchards.

And that comparison is strangling the worship in smaller churches. Smaller church worship ministries can’t be scale models of larger ministries.

The lower attendance isn’t just a difference in quantity–there’s a completely different quality to a small church. And by quality, I don’t mean Kmart versus Macy’s. If we look at Merriam-Webster’s definitions, the Kmart versus Macy’s analogy is the 2nd entry for quality: “degree of excellence; superiority in kind.”

But the first definition of quality is: “peculiar and essential character; nature; an inherent feature.”

The smaller church has a peculiar and essential character that sets it apart from a larger church. It’s inherently different.

And that’s neither bad nor good. It just is. And it just needs to be understood. And that’s what this Small Church/Big Worship series* is about. If you’re part of a smaller church–paid or volunteer, pastor or lay-person, worship leader or team member, I want to help free you from trying to be what you can’t be (right now) and embrace who and what you are (right now). We’ll look traps and diversions that smaller churches fall prey to. We’ll explore some practical ways you can develop and thrive with what you already have, and find ways to grow more. And ultimately, I want to help you leverage your “peculiar and essential quality” to create remarkable times of worship that larger churches could only have in their Technicolor dreams.

Jon is the worship/music pastor of Heartland Church, a church with campuses in Lexington and North Woodbury. He loves the challenge of developing musicians and teams for two campuses More from Jon Nicol or visit Jon at


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