I have been in churches large and small throughout most of my life. Over time I have come to realize how much I appreciate the small church experience.
In my mind, a small church is one whose congregation is less than 100-150 people, with a average Sunday attendance of 75-100. I have seen churches that have grown larger and maintained some of the small church characteristics, but generally once a church exceeds 200 people, it starts to suffer from “large church” expectations. Services are more like productions, with high tech lights, and graphics, near-professional musicians, and feel-good pastors with messages that are more motivational in content than scriptural. Some large churches now resemble malls more than church the way we remember it.
The attitude of this present age is that small churches are “old-fashioned” and no longer relevant. In my experience though, large churches are often not a healthy way to “do church” either. I have seen many articles and books that criticize small churches as “dying” or “failing” because they are not showing appreciable growth.
I have been part of a church for much of the past three decades that has remained roughly the same size the entire time. While we have our struggles, I don’t consider us to be broken at all. People come and go, attendance waxes and wanes, but through it all we have remained a steadfast presence in our community that represents our Lord Jesus Christ, and we have maintained the feeling of being part of a church “family”.
It is for this reason that I though I would take a minute to highlight why our small church has some advantages over the much larger (and supposedly more modern) churches that surround us.
..and let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching… – Hebrews 10:24-25
This is one area where small church shines. Too often in larger churches, people come for a little music and preaching, and then go home, having only cursory interaction with other believers. A greeting and a handshake is a meager excuse for real fellowship. True fellowship involves spending time together. Encouraging each other, sharing your life and trials with each other. Praying together… and playing together.
We have a active womens group that goes on retreats, goes out to eat nearly every month, and does a number of other activities together. These women of faith are often the core of our congregations social activities.
Our men’s group also endeavors to do an activity on a monthly basis. Sometimes we get together to eat pizza and study. Other times we hit the shooting range, or do some other “guy-oriented” activity. Just guys, hanging out together.. and being guys.. fellowship at it’s best.
For our kids and youth we have an AWANA program, that serves the dual purpose of discipleship, and gives our kids a place where they can get together once a week to hang out with church friends and just have fun.
We still have (occasionally) pot-luck dinners, Holiday Dinners, and most months we have a second-Sunday breakfast held before Sunday School starts. For the most part, this has disappeared from the larger church environment having been replaced instead with coffee and donuts (with some churches operating a paid coffee bar, or even a “Starbucks” inside the building).
Fellowship does not stand alone. The time we spend together in fellowship gives opportunities for prayer, mentoring, and discipleship of fellow believers,.
One of the big reasons for being involved in a local church is so you can grow in your faith. This growth comes through study of the scriptures, and often through mentoring from a brother or sister who is more mature and learned. While the pastor’s sermon that is given every week is valuable in it’s teaching and exposition of scripture, individual and group study of the scriptures is also very important.
Many larger churches have given up their Sunday school programs in favor of “small groups”. Especially those churches where they now have to maintain multiple worship services to deal with capacity issues, and possibly to give alternatives to worship styles (traditional/contemporary services) There is nothing wrong with this however, often the “small groups” become friendship cliques. Attending a long established small group can feel awkward. As a result, many Christian believers forgo any group study altogether.
We still have Sunday School classes for all ages. An AWANA program for children and youth. Bible study and prayer on Thursday evenings, and lots of fellow disciples who are willing to share and invest in your spiritual growth.
One of the reasons we come together every week is to worship God. Scripture is clear that God desires our worship, and he has given us the desire to sing to him.
Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day -1 Chronicles 16:23
…Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting…. Nehemiah 9:5
…but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord – Ephesians 5:18-19
Even at the last supper, scripture says “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”.
As a small church, we gather every Sunday for a time dedicated to worship through song and prayer. We do our best, but sometimes our music isn’t very good (I admit this, and I am the worship leader!). But that is ok. Our music is worship-oriented, not performance-oriented. We strive for good singing and musicality, but God is more interested in the condition of our heart as we worship Him. If your child sang “Happy Birthday” to you, would you really critique their performance, or would you just be happy at the expression of their love for you? At our small church, we strive for meaningful worship; not for perfect performances. We engage in worship using music that the LORD has provided, including favorite hymns that date back into the 1700’s, on up to songs written just months ago by todays top songwriters. We aren’t locked into a “contemporary only” worship format, that has entrapped many larger churches.
Do you have a desire to sing or play an instrument for your creator? In a larger church setting, any performance that does not live up to their expectations is generally discouraged. At our small church, we welcome all those who wish to use their talents to worship God. We will work with you to help you practice beforehand, so you can give your best offering of worship to God. You can be assured that you will be encouraged by the gathering of believers around you as you lift up your song to the Lord.
We still have a CHOIR! Many larger churches have eliminated their choirs in favor of the more contemporary “worship band” or “worship concert” experience. Our choir prepares music for Easter and Christmas seasons, as well as occasional Sunday Choir performances. I love our choir practice time! The time we spend preparing for a choir worship presentation is more special to me than the performance itself.
I encourage you to seek out a smaller congregation and give it a try for a few months. A single-Sunday visit will not be enough for you to connect and start to enjoy the benefits of being part of a real church family. If you only go once and base your judgment on how the music was, or how the preaching was, or on whether or not anyone spoke to you.. you will never get to a point where you can start building relationships in the church.
One other final thought: Many smaller churches tend to have an census that tips toward being an older group. If you are in your 20’s or 30’s , please don’t let that discourage you. Most small churches would love to have some younger families come be a part of their family. The older members often lavish love and affection on the young kids, and they often provide the financial support that the small churches need. I implore you to look beyond the “show” , and come be a part of a family.