My wife’s family was a bluegrass gospel band and classical music was not part of their repertoire.  So when I bought tickets for us to see Die Fledermaus, a comic opera by Johann Strauss (in English), she told me this would be her first experience of a live, professional orchestra.  To whet her appetite, I played a record (yes, this was 1983) with the Overture over and over again during the weeks leading up to the event.  I think this is the most beautiful overture ever written!  Right up there with the most romantic overture ever written – Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet (part 1 and part 2).  The strings just make your heart soar! “Sigh!” And, of course, the most exciting overture is Tchaikovsky’s 1812 (part 1 and part 2 – complete with pyrotechnics)!  There, I’ve just given you about a forty-five minute, very delightful concert.  But I digress.

I remember that as the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony orchestra1 took their seats in the pit my wife expressed surprise at how small it was (about thirty people I think, a lot fewer than the number in the You Tube performance I linked to above).  She imagined that unmic’d orchestras must have a lot more people to get the rich sound that was on the record.  And then, only a few bars into the overture, she whispered in amazement “That sounds just like the record!!!”  Yes, a small group of people produced a very large sound.  In fact, they sounded just like a ‘real’ orchestra!

Size and impact

It’s amazing what a small group can do that is out of all proportion to its size.  Think about the dozen apostles.  About Paul and his missionary team.  A small group can change the world!  One of my staff members said that at CCCC, “we are a small team doing big things.”  I love that thought!

The dream of many small ministries, while often not stated, is to become a big ministry.  At CCCC, we have close to 10% of all Christian ministries as members, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be 100%!  Thinking like this, though, focuses your attention on how small you are now.  And then you run the risk of wondering if you are really accomplishing anything as a small ministry.  This angst could become an impediment to your current success.  I’d like to say a few encouraging words to the smaller ministries of Canada (next post I’ll say something to the larger ministries).  What I’m going to say could apply to larger ministries too, but they have to work a lot harder than smaller ministries to get these advantages.

The fact is that Christian ministries in Canada are very small.  Based on the 22,000 T3010’s for Christian ministries that we have in our database at CCCC (and assuming they are correctly filled out):

  • 80% have less than $300,000 in total revenue, and about half have less than $100,000
  • 80% have 4 or fewer employees, and about half have exactly one staff member
    • 105 report no employees at all (just volunteers)
    • 16% say they have two employees
    • 93.5% have 9 or fewer paid staff

Encouragement for small ministries

Given our small size, here are some things to remember:

  • God delights in working through the unlikely, which means he likes to work with the small group that the world might not pay attention to.  In Deut. 7:7-8 Moses says to Israel, “The LORD did not set his love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you….”  God did not take the larger nations of Egypt, Assyria or Babylon as his people; he took a people and made them his people, not because of their might, their size, or their importance in the world, but just because he loved them.  You don’t have to be big for God to work through you.  Work at your ministry with all you’ve got, knowing that God works through underdogs like a young shepherd boy, a group of country-bumpkin Galileans (at least according to the priests of Jerusalem), and a timid young pastor named Timothy.
  • God likes to work in ways that make it clear it is him who is the source of success, not humans.  The best example of this is in Judges 7, where the LORD says to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.'”  The group of 22,000 men gets whittled down to 300, an appropriately small number to prove that they are fighting under the power of God and not under their own strength.  Although a small ministry, and maybe because you are a small ministry, God may use you to demonstrate his activity in our world.  When the job is so big that you can’t do it, then you know that your accomplishments are God’s.  So work hard, knowing that God is working beside you and around you in ways you may not even know, but be assured he will accomplish his purposes for calling you into ministry.
  • Being a small ministry, you are much more likely to think carefully about which programs and services to continue offering.  You can’t afford to carry anything forward just because it’s part of your routine.  You can’t throw money or people at your opportunities, since you don’t have the capacity to do that, so you must choose carefully how to use the precious resources you have, pruning old programs to make way for new programs.  By always focusing on the best use of your limited resources, you will likely have a very effective and efficient ministry.
  • You are more likely to find creative ways to stretch your influence, by partnering with others or drawing on volunteers, because you have to.  My first boss, Richard Adair, believed the secret to success as a small entrepreneur is to ride the coat-tails of a larger company.  They do the heavy work of acquiring the customer, for example, and you simply provide the add-on to the sale.  As a small ministry, your calling might be to serve specialized, small niches that the larger organizations have missed while focusing on the more general and broader needs.  You might be a specialty add-on to the services provided by larger organizations.
  • Small ministries don’t have the resources to develop a bureaucracy, so it is easier to have a creative entrepreneurial environment.  Small ministries can be the ‘skunk works’ of Christian ministry, the testing ground for new ideas.  Encourage innovation.
  • As a small organization, you will probably be able to respond quicker to issues or changes in the environment.  You can be fast on your feet and quick to exploit new opportunities.  Create an organizational culture that supports change.
  • In a flat organization, you can communicate more easily with your staff than a large organization can, and you can also involve them in decisions and planning that they might not experience in a large ministry.  Staff will likely have greater variety in their work because the jobs have to be broader in scope to make up for the limited number of employees.  In addition, you will likely empower your team more and delegate more to them (out of necessity), thus giving you an advantage in hiring people because they will be able to use more of their talents and have more influence over their work than elsewhere.
  • The environment of a small ministry is very motivational in and of itself for your team members because all of them are very close to the ministry’s results and they can see the fruit of their labour for themselves.  There is nothing like appreciative feedback to spur you on.  It is astonishing how many compliments the CCCC gets, and I make sure that all the staff share the compliments with the team so that we can all be encouraged by them.

As with any ministry, don’t measure your success in terms of growth or size, but in terms of how well you are fulfilling your mission.  God created your ministry to assist with his mission, so progressively fulfilling the specific part of his mission that you are called to serve is the way you should assess your success.

Finally, when you feel you are small and struggling along by yourself, remember God’s promise that is so important that it appears not once, but four times in scripture (Deut 31:6, 31:8, Josh 1:5 and Heb 13:5): “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

May God richly bless your ministry!

  1. Alas, as of October 2023 the orchestra no longer exists!

Thoughts on A small team doing big things

Sign up for Christian Leadership Reflections today!

An exploration of Christian ministry leadership led by CCCC's CEO John Pellowe