How and Why Orange Works in a Small Church

While we small-church-people can definitely relate to the feeling of being in constant competition with the big churches, I believe the value of small churches to be much richer than that. 

There are many different expressions of church. They come in all sizes—big, medium, and small. I’ve been in all three, but most of my time in ministry has been spent in small churches.

And I’ve noticed people in small churches can carry an inferiority complex about what they’re able to offer. They try (and fail) to emulate big churches without the big budget, big facility, big staff, professional musicians and actors, and hologram capabilities to deliver perfectly curated sermons from any location in the world.

Okay, big churches may not have holograms (yet), but to the staff of a small church, it sure seems like the bigger the church, the more lightyears ahead they are in their technology.

The truth about small churches

While we small-church-people can definitely relate to the feeling of being in constant competition with the big churches, I believe the value of small churches to be much richer than that.

I’ll start with a couple of truths I’ve learned in my time in ministry:

  • Truth #1: Shaping the faith of the next generation isn’t a big church vs. small church competition. Our diverse world needs diverse expressions of the Church to connect with all kinds of people and meet their diverse needs.
  • Truth #2: There are opportunities and advantages—along with challenges—for every church size (yes, even big churches come with unique challenges).

One of the most powerful things about Orange is that it’s not just a curriculum. It’s a strategy. And it’s a strategy that will work in any size church with a few simple adaptations to fit your specific context.

In adapting Orange content to a small church context, you can leverage some inherent advantages that small churches possess.

Small churches are connected

One of my favorite natural features of our small church is that people know each other’s names. They know their children’s names and their parents’ names and their pets’ names! Big churches know the value of that type of community and are almost always structured in some type of small groups to replicate the kind of connection that comes naturally in a small church.

Leaders at smaller churches can leverage that natural connection to implement Orange strategy in a small church setting.

Partner with parents

One of the essential Orange strategies is to partner with parents. In a small church, chances are you know most, if not all, of the parents in your church. Talk about a head start!

You may have heard that a church has, at best, roughly 40 hours a year with a kid. Parents, on the other hand, have up to 3,000 hours a year with their kids. So the vast majority of time spent shaping the lives and faith of kids occurs at home.

Whether a family is in a church of 60 or 6,000 is beside the point between Sundays. No matter the size of the church, the strategy is to empower, inform, and provide tools for parents to have spiritual influence with their kids throughout the week. And through the natural connections a small church cultivates, there’s a simple path for passing along resources to help families win.

Learning to Lead Small

Another key part of Orange strategy is for every child to have a relationship with a consistent, caring adult. In other words, the best way to know God is to know someone who knows God.

In a small church, leaders are often pouring into kids they’ve known since birth. Kids are connecting with caring adults who have been consistent in their lives for more than just this season. The task, of course, is bigger than “I knew you when . . .”—but that’s a rich start to a meaningful connection.

Family ministry is about building faith in the next generation. Small churches are naturally connected, and connection breeds influence and faith-building. These are “our” kids and we have the sacred privilege and opportunity to influence their faith.

Small churches are nimble

While it’s certainly possible for any size organization to dig its heels in to the way things are done, making changes at a small church versus a big church can be like the difference between turning a kayak versus turning an ocean liner.

When implementing new strategies, the advantage sometimes goes to those who can more quickly respond to individuals and unique circumstances.

The ability to quickly reach all the families in the church is one example of the nimbleness a small church enjoys. When you’re starting with a group of people who already know each other, it’s easier to pass on a message or a vision or a strategy There’s power in that kind of unity.

It’s more likely, in a small church, to get the “stage time” needed to effectively cast a vision for Family Ministry and bring the church on board with what’s going on with their kids and students. If you haven’t had that space in your small church, ask for a few minutes the first Sunday of every month to talk about family ministry. Use this time to cast vision. Share monthly themes and bottom lines. Talk about how parents can continue the conversation at home. Encourage them to download the free Parent Cue app to help lead the conversation.

Small churches can experiment and test

While it takes some work to prepare a healthy and delicious family dinner, it’s a lot less work than preparing a meal for an extended family reunion. And while your kids may balk at the new brussels sprouts recipe you tried, the fallout of a Tuesday evening dinner disaster is way less than figuring out a “plan B” for Grandma’s 90th birthday soirée. Similarly, small churches are freer to experiment and find what works best because it takes relatively less effort to plan and implement on a smaller scale.

Take advantage of the small scale and creatively explore what connects with and meets the needs of your church family.

Have a Sunday school hour? Try hosting a parenting class. Start a book club and read Parenting Beyond Your Capacity together. Plan a bowling party for kids and their small group leaders.

Provide support for parents around real-life parenting issues. Ask a professional counselor to speak to your families about kids’ mental health or using technology responsibly. These ideas can work in any size church, but are especially great (and simple!) in a small church community.

Instead of feeling inferior, those of us in small churches have the opportunity to celebrate and utilize the unique advantages of our size.

Raising a family is always hard work; so is effectively ministering to the families in our churches. But both are ultimately rewarding. It’s inspiring to consider the eternal impact of helping families build faith in the next generation.

For more help implementing Orange strategy:

Read When Relationships Matter, by Reggie Joiner and Kristen Ivy

Your Next Weekend Retreat: How To Serve Students, Volunteers, and Parents Well

Why Better Isn’t Always Best in Next Gen Ministry


Kickstart & Simplify Volunteer Onboarding

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