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.
If I am self-selecting whom to invite for a party, I'm tempted to choose those who are most like me in looks, beliefs, and interests. And, indeed, a small church body isn't necessarily a guard against homogeneity—a congregation can reach homogeneity no matter its size. But in our body, whenever someone new joins us for worship, and especially if they stick around, they bring their unique perspective. Their presence seasons the stew. When our body was larger, Abby and I were able to stick with people who were almost exclusively like us. It has been such a gift, with the shrinking of our body, to be forced to interact with people who are older than us, who are more conservative than us, who are more liberal than us, who have less education than us, who have more education than us, who have different struggles from us.