July 22, 2013

In Praise of a Small Church

While on vacation in New York City, I attended a megachurch. One of the musicians has
several CDs to her credit. The scripture reader is a professional narrator and actor. A promotional flyer advertises unusual classes like "Hip Hop Dance in Worship." I am amazed at what God is doing in this evangelical church to grow it so rapidly. And, yes, I am a little jealous. Well, maybe not of the hip hop seminar.

Big churches have so many resources and influences. But the small church is part of God's plan, too. Otherwise, there would not be so many of them. Some church growth books suggest that there is something wrong with a small church that does not aspire to be big. On the contrary, I think that a small congregation, when it is seeking to obey God, can possess positive attributes that a megachurch, because of its size, cannot easily achieve.

Here are six unique advantages of a biblically healthy small church.
1) It provides a home. Church members are growing to love their Father, brothers and sisters. They know individual names and details about those in the family of God. Because Christians are not with strangers in their church home, they can relax and be more transparent.

2) It cements a connection. When an attendee switches from saying your church to speaking of my church, she expresses her integration into the life of the church. A small church gives a sense of belonging instead of being lost in a crowd. The church is important to the member, and the member is important to the church.

3) It extends a welcome. Visitors stand out because there are less of them in a small church. These people are valued and urged to come back. Newcomers receive hospitality, such as directions to the nursery or a warm invitation to coffee fellowship time. Some hear firsthand testimonies by members who love the church.

4) It gives personal pastoral access. A small church's pastor knows the members' names. He sees them in their homes and encounters them in places like the frozen yogurt shop. He is not too busy speaking at national conferences to attend to the needs of his little flock. He provides spiritual support in all situations from birth to death.

5) It requires a commitment. The aforementioned megachurch doesn't publicize when the celebrated primary pastor will be preaching. Presumably, this is so that people will still attend on the Sundays when one of the less famous, albeit capable, pastors is in the pulpit. Most well-known ministers are not pastoring in small churches. Hopefully, the members have loftier goals to motivate their church involvement.

6) It fosters accountability. For a small church to function well, people need to use their spiritual gifts and do their part. One person can make a difference, and perhaps only one person is equipped to do a particularly crucial job. Similarly, if one member is careless about being in church, there is a noticeable hole in the congregation. Someone will inquire about his or her whereabouts.

I enjoy visiting a large city church where God is doing an amazing work. At the same time, I realize that God is big enough to be simultaneously ministering in my small corner of the Christian world. He gives good things to all of His churches, and I am thankful to be a small part of that.


  1. As a pastor's wife, I tend to like the anonymity of a large church. However, God has chosen to place us in a smaller rural ministry, and the benefits of a small church are great, as you said. After serving in this particular place, I couldn't imagine becoming a member of a mega-ministry, though I do enjoy visiting a large church on occasion for ideas and to see how God is working in a different place.

    1. I grew up in a small farming community with a few small churches. Everyone who lived in that town was scrutinized, especially the pastor and his family. However, people there had a great opportunity to be a loving part of other people's lives in a personal way that no city affords. Your Christian life was transparent to all, even when you hoped for anonymity.

      This was a good training ground for being in the fishbowl of ministry. A woman from that place recently called to say that she does not approve of me and the choices I make. She is not a believer; my Christianity annoys her. That is okay. I am reminded of Anne (of Green Gables) Shirley when she said, "I don't believe God himself would entirely meet with her approval."

  2. Setting up for a lunch after worship yesterday, I was reminded of how people in a small church get to know each other and rely on each other's abilities. While I was busy setting out food, I knew one couple would be in the kitchen, rinsing the dirty dishes and another woman would be making sure the guests of honor were first in line. I knew what they were going to do before they did it, and I didn't have to even ask.

  3. One drawback to small churches though. I have been a member of two small rural Presbyterian churches (that matters because the Presbyterian form of church government calls for a PLURALITY of elders and deacons). Each was effectively "run" by one single dominant family. Most of the officers and staff in both churches have the same last name or married into the dominant family. I don't know if that is all that common, but Presbyterian polity is supposedly designed to prevent that kind of thing. It doesn't always work that way. But all the good points above are also very true, and a small church offers more intimate fellowship and more accountability for everyone. Give me a small church any day over a large one. But if God should ever call me away from my present church, I hope He leads us to another small one. But it likely won't be a Presbyterian one.

  4. This was just what I needed at this time (in June, 2016!)We worship & serve in a small church...while a church down the road swells with people formerly from our church as well as many others. It was built with nary a cross anywhere so as not to offend. Its bulging coffers allow any and all manner of entertainment with the lobby boasting a first rate coffee shop. It is discouraging to say the least. Our pastor continues to unabashedly teach the pure Word and yet many are looking for a church experience that checks off all their boxes (casual, good music, several services from which to choose, fun kids programs, coffee shop atmosphere and no commitment.

    1. Linda, I am glad to hear of someone who worships and serves in a small church. I know from personal experience that it can be discouraging, but I hope you keep up the good work and hold onto the truth of God's word.

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