4 Things I Love About a Small Church
I recently led worship in a church not far from my own. Like the one where I worship regularly, it’s small – between 30 and 40 adults – and that can present problems. It has a pianist, for instance, but it also relies on other churches to provide musical help. And there’s always a little too much to do, and it relies very heavily on a few willing volunteers. It’s fair to say it lacks the buzz and sense of excitement you’d get in a larger congregation. There aren’t many children and as far as I could see there were no ‘nuclear families’ of the kind beloved by church growth experts.
I fell into conversation with a couple who’d migrated there from a much larger church – an unlikely move, some might think. It wasn’t that they didn’t like or appreciate their town centre congregation, it’s just that they felt a bit lost there. In the small church down the road, they felt they belonged.
1. I know everyone. Not well, necessarily, but I know everyone’s name and something about them. If someone new comes in, I know it. When we share communion together, it feels like a family.
2. I matter. I don’t do as much in the church as I’d like, or as I ought, but if I’m not there I know it makes a difference. There’s a sense of responsibility I don’t feel so much in a large congregation.
3. People care. A family tragedy or a sudden blessing can be shared. When I’m in a service of worship I’m not among strangers, but friends. If I’m in trouble, I get phone calls, textsand cards.
4. I have space to be me. In a large church it’s easy to feel your opinion isn’t important and no one really cares what you think. In a small church your voice counts – an incentive to use it wisely.
Is everything perfect in a small church? Of course not. There are money worries large churches don’t have. Sometimes it would be nice to be anonymous and free of responsibility. While most people are lovely, occasionally you come across someone a little annoying. And can be that nagging feeling that if the church isn’t getting bigger, it’s not quite doing its job properly – after all, we want people to become Christians and know Jesus for themselves.
But one of the greatest problems a small church has is the assumption that because it’s small, it’s failing. That’s completely wrong. It’s based on a commercial, business-type model which regards growth as the only worthwhile measure of success. God’s economy is different. Church growth in the New Testament happens because people are loving and faithful. They don’t obsess over it it, and they certainly don’t hold conferences and write books about it. Of course, we should do everything we can to reach out to people of no faith and make pathways to Christ for them. But beating ourselves up because there are only 30 people in the congregation rather than 600 is, apart from anything else, counter-productive – people are drawn to peaceful confidence, not restless dissatisfaction.
Big churches are a huge blessing. But so are small ones, and we should be grateful for all God’s gifts.
Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods