Let’s begin with a confession; I admit that I MIGHT get a bit jealous of the big churches every now and then. When I have gone to visit my kids who attended large churches, I would walk around coveting… um, admiring all the facilities, resources, staff, singing, electronics and so on. Being a small church minister makes you very aware of all the things out there you DON’T have. So, as I write this, I remind myself about some of the benefits of a small church. Part of this post stems from a conversation I had with Bob Russell several years ago at Southeast Christian, one of the largest churches in America. After a session, he sat around with a few of us and we were talking about how lucky he was to have so many resources and wonderful capabilities that we couldn’t even imagine in our churches. He looked at us and said something to the effect, “you get jealous of what I have, and I am jealous of what you have. I miss knowing everyone at church. I miss being able to open my emails and not get blasted every week by people I have somehow offended by my lesson. There are a lot of things you need to really appreciate. It’s not all roses in the big church, believe me.”
I went home thinking more positively about the small church God has given me to minister to. Now, after more than 25 years with the same congregation, I see more and more of those advantages that resources can’t replace.
One of the greatest, and sometimes hardest things about a small church is the family atmosphere. Yes, sometimes it can be hard to break into the life of a small church, but if the church is operating healthily, that shouldn’t be an issue. We recently had 2 families start worshipping with us and they both have remarked about how welcomed they have felt and more importantly that they were encouraged to be part of our spiritual family. When you know everyone, or most everyone, you get involved in their lives. Their hurts and celebrations become your hurts and celebrations.
We also tend to love unconditionally better. When you are family, you know that you won’t agree on everything, but because you love each other, you don’t allow those disagreement areas to separate you. That is usually true of a small church as well. In large churches there isn’t as much emotional investment, so groups splinter and stay by themselves or head off to the next church and are never missed. Which leads me to my next thought.
Not just a number
I believe some people like a large church because they want to be anonymous. You can’t do that in a small church. If you’re new, you’ll be noticed. If your missing, your absence will be noticed. If you changed your hair style, it will be noticed. I grew up in mostly small churches and I am a type of person that doesn’t want to just attend church. I want to be involved in the life of the church. When I went to college, I started off at the big church across the street. As a student, we were sent off to the “college” section of the auditorium. If you wanted to serve, you almost had no chance other than serving communion in the college section. I just couldn’t get used to that, so I started visiting other congregations and was never missed at the big church. The small church took me in and got to know me as a person.
They appreciate your talents
As I visited around, I found a smaller country church that welcomed me and my friends. Pretty soon, we started bringing more friends and the church used us all the time. They were a church that was getting older and loved having young, fresh blood to teach classes, serve, preach, and bring life to the church.
In my present congregation, one of the things we consciously work on is not overwhelming new members who want to use their talents. We could work them to death if we didn’t pay attention. Not everyone is talented enough to be used in a large church, but if you’re willing to work, a smaller church loves a person like you! We need you. There aren’t a hundred people who could teach class at any given time. Small churches usually have about 5-10 if they are lucky. You’ll be a rock star if you’re willing to step up and help in a small church.
They offer accountability
One of greatest advantages of a small church is accountability. You can’t vanish into the crowd in a small church. You can’t easily live outside of God’s will and it not be noticed in a small church. Big churches use small groups for this purpose, and many do it very well. A small church by its very nature is a small group.
They aren’t pretentious
Lastly, smaller churches just seem to be more down to earth. I’ve noticed that often big churches look down on people at smaller churches. They are used to having a professional staff, the best musicians, great facilities and names that are known nationwide. Small churches rarely have any of that, so they are less about the “show” than many large churches. They know they don’t have it all and so don’t act like they do.
I am not knocking big churches. They truly can do some wonderful things that small churches will never be able to do. They have a place in the life of God’s kingdom. What I want you to remember is this; so do small churches! Appreciate what they can offer. If you are a small church, work hard to show the advantages you offer to people seeking a relationship with God and the church.