I love small churches. But I refuse to idealize them.
There’s not an ounce of nostalgia in me for some long-lost, non-existent, good-old-days when everyone attended a little white chapel and all was right with the world.
I also refuse to blame small churches for what’s wrong with the state of Christianity today. I will no longer sit idly by while church leaders cite statistics about how many small churches there are, as though it’s all the proof we need that Christianity is in trouble.
But I won’t let small churches off the hook, either. 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.
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 because of bivocational time demands 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.
(This is an excert from my book, Small Church Essentials.)
(Photo by Solomon Joy)