A few weeks ago I participated in a workshop where along with many other women, I learned how to teach the Bible in my local church. It was a treat to be among women, to be taught by women, and to study God’s word together. As I got to know the women around me the question of our churches repeatedly came up. I marveled at the ministries and opportunities many of these women had in larger church contexts. What a gift! When the time came for me to share why I was there I found myself nervously spouting out—“I just lead our women’s Bible study.” And even that wasn’t entirely true since I haven’t actually started leading it yet (it starts in the Fall). Such is the reality of being part of a small church, where it really is a little like Cheers, and everyone does know your name.
When I first became a Christian, my first church experience was in a large mega church with multiple campuses. The Lord did a tremendous work in my heart there as I got involved in ministries, sat under faithful teaching, and learned how church is supposed to function. Over the years I have, not intentionally, moved on to smaller and smaller churches. Now I’m in a church plant that has only been in existence for five years. We’ve been part of it since it was merely a dream in the minds of two eager pastors (one of those pastors is my husband). Now we spend our Sundays with eighty other like-minded believers singing God’s praises and listening to good preaching.
We talk a lot in our reformed circles about the value of ordinary pastors and ordinary ministries. I’m thankful for that. Not only am I member of an ordinary church, led by ordinary pastors, but I’ve also had the privilege of observing my dad give his adult life to a small band of believers as their ordinary pastor. It’s easy to feel small at big conferences (like I did) that send teams of leaders and buses of faithful members to attend, while you are maybe the only one from your church attending. But let’s remember, that even though we might feel small in number, we are likely the majority. Most churches are small, and most churches are held together by very little organizational infrastructure and the weekly preaching of God’s word.
As one member of a small church to the many others who may be reading, let’s remember the value of being in our small churches, lest we forget the gift that God has given us.
1.) Being part of a small church allows you to be known. This can be scary, right? But it’s so good for us. When I miss church, people know. When I miss Bible study, people know. Small group feels much smaller when a family of five is gone—and there aren’t that many to begin with. Even in a culture that praises autonomy and independence, we still have a deep, God-given desire to be known. A small church makes that happen a little more easily.
2.) Being part of a small church gives you hands on experience in the work that God is doing. Everyone matters in a small church because if you don’t do it no one else will. Of course, everyone matters in a church of any size, but in a small church you need all hands on deck in a way you can’t always see in a larger church. You need people to set-up chairs, volunteers for nursery, greeters, people to bring food for a potluck, musicians, sound team, and anything else you can think of that keeps a small church running. And the best part is you get to do it together, with people you will see again and again and again.
3.) Being part of a small church lets you know your pastors. We can be really self-focused in how we approach our pastors and our church. But in a small church, you get to see your pastors as people, as people with families, with needs, with weaknesses, and with interests. They aren’t just personalities preaching to you on Sunday morning—they are flesh and blood people that you get to live life with. This can be incredibly hard, but also incredibly rewarding.
4.) Being part of a small church allows you to practice forgiveness and forbearance. Who hasn’t seen a small church blow up over issues because people simply didn’t talk about it, seek forgiveness, and then move on. A small church survives on these basic Christian principles, but it serves our soul to practice them with one another.
5.) Being part of a small church allows you to see God working in the lives of the people who see every single Sunday. If the Lord keeps you at your church over the next many years, you will get a front row seat to God’s continued sanctification in the lives of his people. This is no small gift to you. Of course, it can be messy and hard, but the rewards of seeing God work in the lives of fellow believers far outweigh the temporary pain they cause.
I’m thankful for my small church. Maybe it’s not as easy to disappear or maybe there aren’t as many programs in place, but I am known and loved. And I know and love them in return.