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Home > 2014 > August Online Only > Four Unexpected Benefits of a Small Church

I'm a member of a small church. Our church had around 150 members when my wife, Abby, and I started attending almost seven years ago, but now our numbers are closer to 70-90. Our sanctuary, built for around 200, is often sparsely populated on non-Easter Sundays. Our nursery is stocked with toys older than I am. I make our coffee in a giant percolator—and it was an upgrade when I switched to beans from Costco. We still sing hymns, we still have Sunday school (which I teach), and our color scheme is anything but modern.

In short, we are not a megachurch in people, resources, or mind-set.

Yet over the years I have been so grateful for our small church, and many of its unexpected benefits and opportunities are specifically related to its … smallness.

1. Being in a small church has forced me to be in community.

When there are fewer people in a place, it's much harder to hide. The first Sunday Abby and I attended the church (we're members now), we sat in the back. Our intent was to bolt as soon as the benediction was pronounced so we could convene in the car and decide if it was worth returning. This was our traditional practice, and it had worked so far in the churches we'd visited. But after the service at this church we were—literally—chased down.

Our pastor's wife said, "Wow, you guys are fast!" and when someone acknowledges that you are running away, it's impolite to keep running. Before we could reach the door, we were introduced to the rest of the church. The next week we came early for Sunday school and stayed late for choir practice. As much as we craved anonymity, and as much as I would sometimes like to slink into it now, it was (and is) good for us to be known.

2. Being in a small church has forced me to serve.

When I was in college and attended the big college-town churches, it was very easy to take in a sermon, get the free college kid care package, and book it back to the dorm with no strings attached. This is much harder to do in a small environment. When Isaiah has his vision of the Lord, there are lots of angels around, but Isaiah is the only human witness. When the Lord says, "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" there aren't really any other options. I suppose Isaiah could have refused, but doing so would have highlighted his own unwillingness as the excuse—there was no one else to hide behind. Similarly, in a small-church environment, when something needs to be done, it's much harder to trust that someone else must be taking care of it. Often my response to a need must be, "Here I am. Send me." This isn't always my preference, but it is almost always for my good.

3. Being in a small church has forced me to reckon with diversity.

My church is a community church. While some people drive to be part of our body, most of our members live close to the building. While you might think that such a small geographic area would lead to homogeneity, it has produced a surprising amount of diversity. Different races, different socioeconomic statuses, and especially different perspectives are represented. Someone might look at our little body and say, "What on earth do you have in common?" And that is exactly how the church should be. We come together because we have one important thing in common: our Head, Christ.

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Posted: August 18, 2014

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Displaying 1–5 of 6 comments


September 14, 2014  9:05pm

Thanks Jonathan! I go to a church that has 150 members. After negative church experiences these people are my family. I wouldn't get this level of acceptance at a larger church.

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Sylvia Peterson

August 23, 2014  7:55pm

Our church meets at the volunteer fire station. When we have over 15 people we pull the fire trucks out of the bay and have church "in the garage." Sometimes I've felt like we are doing something wrong because we are small. Thank you Jonathon for reminding me of all the things we are doing right. Plus, with no overhead we are able to put 100% of our tithes and offerings into the community served by our firefighters!

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Rev Scott N Penner

August 22, 2014  7:40am

Thank you for putting in writing, "I have been so grateful for our small church." For the past 23 years I have been, and continue to be, the pastor of a small (70-90 people) church. Your article reinforces the dignity of such a mission. It is a breath of fresh air as our church gets ready for fall ministry here in our small, but hugely significant, slice of the Kingdom. Thanks!

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August 21, 2014  6:24pm

Thank you for the article; but, too late to make it into my bibliography on "God Loves the Small Church Pastor and the Small Church." My D Min project whose working title was "Shammah in a Field of Lentils" 2 Sam. 23:11-12. God gave lonely warrior Shammah victory "that day." It is from the small places God seems to do his greatest works: Just think "Bethlehem" and you're onto the right wave length with God.

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Keith Hallam

August 19, 2014  3:59pm

Great article, Jonathan. The church I pastor is just a little larger than the one you attend, but the dynamic is much the same. Thanks for reminding me that it's okay to pastor a smaller church- that there are some powerful reasons why smaller churches still "work" and are an essential part of the Kingdom of God.

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