Blog #279: On Small Churches

John Cline

Our church is “small”, in that churches with less than two hundred people are considered “small” by church growth experts. However, most churches in the western world are and so when I read about or hear or contemplate the fact that there are really large churches in Edmonton and around the world, I am thankful for them as they can be such a powerful witness for Christ in our world. However, while I do feel somewhat insecure about the fact that our church is not growing in the same manner as large churches, I refuse to be overly insecure about our reality. Indeed, I find inspiration and hope in what we can do, as compared to what we cannot do. In the words of writer Karl Vaters, I choose to believe what he is writing, which is this: ‘Just because we’re small doesn’t give us an excuse to do ministry with anything less than Christ-honoring, people-serving, world-transforming passion. In short, small churches are not a problem to be fixed, a virtue to be praised or an excuse to do shoddy work. But we are normal. Small churches are still the way most people choose to worship, learn and minister.

In fact, even with the recent advent of the megachurch (an advent I’m grateful for, by the way) small churches are still the way most people choose to worship, learn and minister. But, since these misconceptions about small churches keep persisting, let’s take a look at them, one at a time:

1. Small Churches Are Not a Problem. Just because a church is small does not mean that it is broken, lazy, visionless, ingrown, poorly led or theologically faulty. Are there some small churches like that? Of course. Some big churches, too. But despite what you may have heard or believed, more Christians choose to attend, serve and worship in small churches than in all other sizes of churches combined. And not just in rural regions where all the churches are small. Even in heavily populated areas, where megachurches dot the landscape, more people choose to worship in churches under 200 than in churches of any other size. They’re not wrong to do so. In fact, where Christians are growing as a percentage of the population, it’s almost always due to the multiplication of small congregations, not the growing of larger ones. Certainly there are broken small churches. But being small is not, on its own, an indication that there’s a problem.

2. Small Churches Are Not a Virtue. Big churches aren’t better than small churches. But small churches aren’t better than big churches, either. Small churches are not the best way to do church – we’re just best for some people. We are not closer to the New Testament ideal than big churches. We are not the righteous remnant. Smallness is never because ‘we’re the only ones teaching the Bible’. There’s nothing holy about being small. While I believe that small churches will play a more visible role in the future growth of the church, I don’t believe we will replace big- or megachurches. Nor should we. It’s not about big or small. It’s about big and small. The entire church is better with all of us than without any of us.

3. Small Churches Are Not an Excuse. Being small is not an excuse to do church poorly. While many small churches may not be able to afford a lot of things we’d love to have, like the latest technology, a permanent building or even a salary for the pastor, we will not allow any of that to stop us from being everything Jesus is calling us to be. Here are some excuses we must no longer accept:

Just because we don’t have a kickin’ worship band does not mean we’ll settle for passionless worship

Lack of sermon prep time will not mean bad theology or boring preaching

Minimal finances will not stop us from being generous

Not having professionally-made graphics, flyers and banners won’t stop us from inviting our friends to church

We will not wait until we get bigger to do what Jesus is calling us to do right here, right now.

A local church doesn’t need to be big to do the Jesus stuff well. And the Jesus stuff is the only stuff that matters.’

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