For most of my ministry years, now stretching over a decade and a half, I have served in what most would consider larger churches. This was not my plan. When I was getting started, all I ever wanted to do was stay in my home town (pop. 4,500), attend my church (pop. 140) and minister to my youth group (pop. 10-12). Maybe I’d coach some basketball on the side. I didn’t want to leave home. That was my life plan.
God had a different one.
Presently, I serve at Current – A Christian Church. It is a fantastic place to belong and serve and work. I’m thrilled to be on this team in this place at this time. The church is growing and it’s healthy and God’s up to some cool stuff. It’s an incredible privilege to be along for the ride.
Previously, I served in two other ministries. I learned a lot and made some incredible relationships at both places. They were both large-ish. So nothing I’m about to say is a critique of larger churches. I’m not an anti-mega church guy. That said, I wanted to come out and say something that doesn’t get said far often enough:
God uses small churches, too.
Large churches make the headlines. Large churches get noticed. Pastors at large churches get the speaking gigs. Pastors at large churches write stuff that gets published. Large churches are lauded for their contribution to the Kingdom. I get it. However, consider this:
- Small churches also make enormous contribution to the Kingdom of God
- Most of the leaders at large churches grew up in small churches
Small churches have enormous impact on the Kingdom.
Most congregations are small. Only one in ten church attenders attends a megachurch. There are just so many smaller congregations, their collective impact rivals that of humongous churches. Whether you’re talking about total resources devoted to global missions or just general impact, it’s easy to see that small churches are going to leave their mark in big ways in their communities.
But if you’re one of those “large churches rule, small churches drool” kinda people, I would issue this challenge:
Go up to your mega-church office sometime. Knock on every door. Ask the staff what size of church they grew up in. I bet you the vast majority grew up in a smaller church.
To what can we credit this incredible collective contribution? Two things spring to mind.
In my experience, small churches (usually) do discipleship much more effectively than large ones. Every large church I’ve ever served in craved ways to foster an atmosphere of discipleship that resembled the small church I grew up in. Every large church looked for ways to feel small. Whether it’s an emphasis on small groups or the multi-site trend that has consumed megachurches in recent years, large churches want to offer the experience of small churches.
I think small churches (usually) do intergenerational relationships better. Large churches are sometimes forced to segment their population for logistical reasons. Space disallows everyone from being able to gather together. I attended a main worship service with octogenarians every week of my childhood, and I’m better for it. If sociologists are right (and I think they are) most teenagers abandon church after graduation because they never felt at home at church outside of their youth group. I never felt that way, because I was always invited into the life of the whole church.
I’m sure there are other things small churches do better than large ones. To be fair, I’m also confident there are things large churches do better than small ones. This isn’t a blog arguing one is better than the other, this is a blog simply seeking to say some things about the churches that often go overlooked, under-appreciated, and unnoticed.
If you belong to a small church, can I give you a little encouragement?
- Don’t assume because your church is small it’s less effective
- Don’t assume because your church is small it’s behind the times
- Don’t assume because your church is small it’s not honoring God
- Don’t assume because your church is small that it can’t make a big impact
- Don’t assume because a different church is large they are a better church
As I said, I am a part of a church that is growing and healthy and doing a lot of things right. But no church is perfect. And your small church isn’t perfect, either. But hear me clearly: there is nothing wrong with the fact that it is small. Embrace it. Lean into it. Leverage it.
I am so thankful that I grew up in a church that did so, and I know a lot of other people who are, too.