Small Churches Can (And Should) Plant Churches

Guest Blogger: David Housholder, Robinwood Church, Huntington Beach, CA

“Be Fruitful and Multiply.”  Not the greatest commandment, but certainly the first one. And repeated several times to make sure we got it. For most of us that means that we should plant churches.

Most large churches have some form of multiplication which they are practicing or at least planning. Some, like Chuck Smith’s original Calvary Chapel, have spawned many  (mostly small, some big) offspring, especially up the West Coast. Other large churches, prefer “satellite churches” which tend to orbit around and face inward the mother ship, getting an altitude boost from already-proven branding. I’m not going to criticize how big churches multiply; truth is, I like the way they do it better than those who don’t do it (Stolen quote from D.L. Moody, which I use all the time).

Uncommon Among Small Churches

But, at least in North America, church planting is uncommon among small churches. Now I am talking SMALL churches; congregations under 200 in Sunday attendance, but larger than house churches.

Depending on to whom you listen (and church statistics are notoriously flakey), the average organized church in North America has 70-100 people in church on a Sunday morning. Estimates run that as many  as 300,000 of the 330,000 U.S. churches could be considered “small.” The Lord must love small churches; He certainly created a lot of them…

Low Self-Esteem

Most small churches (not just their pastors) suffer from some degree of low self-esteem. The scorecard out there in the “pastor world” tends to focus on ABC’s as measures of success (Attendance, Building, Cash). Attendance at small churches is counted in the dozens, not hundreds. Many rent space and don’t own a building. And their balance sheet may be upside-down at the end of the year.

Many, if not most small church pastors are bi-vocational. Personally, I sometimes need 3-4 income streams to make ends meet, and that doesn’t seem to be the exception among my peers.

Know Your Sheep

If you, like me, prefer knowing ALL your “sheep,” and yet have a passion for Kingdom expansion and evangelism, you will find yourself in a bit of a bind. How can we grow the Kingdom, reach the lost, transform society, and yet remain relational and non-bureaucratic? We are working on that problem here at Robinwood Church, and offer the following suggestions:

Ten Steps You Can Take, Right Now!

  1. Give up, for the sake of focus, the “bigger is better” scorecard. Growing a big church and planting lots of new churches is too “scattered” a vision for the mental, personal, time, and financial resources of a small church. Put your focus on multiplication instead.
  2. Revel in the relational nature of your church. People crave a place where “everyone knows their name,” and that whoever  presides over  their major  life passages (including their memorial service) who will have a clue about their life story. Pass this DNA on to churches you plant.
  3. Identify people in your church who may be able to plant a church. We are sending out an older guy, who has clear leadership potential, to start a church in his home on the other side of Orange County. This Sunday! He was always frustrated not being in primary leadership himself, and this should be a good outlet for him and a kudo for our people.
  4. Be cool with failure. Church planting is a failure-rich environment. We sent a couple to Idaho (he got a new job up there) and trained them to plant when they arrived. Never worked out. Fail quickly and move on…
  5. Work with your denomination, or network, to get some churches planted. Most denominational leaders would love to “score” another church plant and will be thrilled if you call them. They may have resources/training/ideas well beyond what you can mobilize. We are working with a couple from our denomination (trained by them) to plant a church in nearby Westminster.
  6. Identify unreached segments in communities you know. My wife and I have a trailer parked in the desert where we love to go hiking. The town of 3,000 has a half-dozen churches that reach out to Anglos (especially rich snowbirds), but no one attempts to evangelize the biggest population group in town: the young, English-speaking Latinos. Don’t compete with other churches for members. Go after the people no one else targets. We are looking for a young English-speaking, Latino, athletic (pick-up soccer is big here) couple to plant a church in this desert town. Hey, call me if you are interested!
  7. Keep the overhead low, in your church and in the churches you plant. Low overhead means flexibility and freedom to try new things.
  8. Work out the legal stuff. Make sure your by-laws allow you to “cover” the new churches and provide non-profit status and credentialed leadership. You may need to work with your denomination on this.
  9. Listen to the 200 Churches Podcast (iTunes and Google Play) for weekly small-church leadership encouragement. You’ll need it!
  10. If you are a risk-taking, Kingdom-minded, leader with a passion for church multiplication, connect with us. A three-fold cord is not easily broken. And the Lord wants multiplication to happen among his people!

“Some say that small groups of highly committed people can’t change the world. But if you look at history (the American Founders, the Apostles of Jesus, etc.) they are the only groups that truly ever have.”    -Margaret Meade, Anthropologist

David Housholder is the author of Seven Secrets of a Meaningful Life, The Blackberry Bush, and Light Your Church on Fire without Burning it Down. A new book, #OwnYourLife, will be out soon from Broadstreet Publishing. You can catch him at









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