I love the small church because Christ loved it and gave himself for it. He loves the small church as much as the megachurch. He must love it for there are thousands of them. In fact, the small church is the norm, and the megachurch (over 2,000 members) is the rarity. In all the countries of the world where the church has a presence, the small church of 150 and below, forms the majority. Typically more than 80 or 90% of all churches in each country would be of that size.
More relational, more like family
I love the small church because by nature it is more relational, and less structured and bureaucratic. As a church grows bigger it has to be better organized; hierachical levels increase; policies and standard operating procedures clog the arteries; and institutionalism sets in. Decisions are less concerned with persons than with precedence. Leaders hardly shake your hands and probably doesn’t know you’ve been a church member for five years.
Nurturing and caring
As a member of a small church you get legendary care. When you are hospitalized the church knows it, and prays for you, and the pastor visits you. The pastor knows you by name (and even your family members, dog, and goldfish) and you do not have to press 1, press 3, press 5 before you reach the secretary of the secretary of the pastor, and finally get stuck there. The pastor can give better attention to spiritual growth and discipleship. When your kid’s exams are around the corner, there is prayer and even tutoring. When you lose your job, others are concerned and they pray, and help out, and look out for a job for you. When you get married, many are there to rejoice with you. When you die, many are there to pay their last respects and to comfort the bereaved family, and though you won’t be around to benefit from that, your family will.
Every member involvement and growth
You cannot just attend the worship services. There are more things that needs to be done than there are people to do them. So all hands on board and everybody helps out somewhere, and many have to help out in more than one area. Some Christians don’t like this because studying and working is tiring enough for their packed life. Yet it is in serving one another, contributing to the common good of all, that we also find the meaning of communtiy, and taste a little of the intra Trinitarian love. The small church compels you to serve and thereby discover your spiritual gifts and make significant contributions. It motivates you to invest in what is eternal: serving Christ.
Shaped and sandpapered
While serving and relating, you get shaped or sandpapered: with help from people around you, you get to be all that God wants you to be. Small churches can be “ojama shimasu”(translated: Sorry, but I am going to disturb you). You won’t be left alone in anonymity and untouchability. You will get to know people whose rough edges will scrape on your smooth, soft sensitive skin, and I must say vice versa. In the big churches, everybody smiles because few folks get close enough and stay together long enough to get in your face and step on your toes. In a small church it is so squeezy you have to say, “Excuse me,” or “Sorry”. You step on people’s toes or get elbowed in the narrow confines of true Christian community. It is just one of the major ways that God uses, besides trials and marriage (are these both synonymous?), to change us into His likeness. God loves you unconditionally as you are, but he loves you so much he won’t leave you as you are, in your character. Its the same with our kids, we love them with all their faults and bad habits, but we do not leave them as they are; we encourage change for the better. The small church is very good environment for such change to take place.
Nothing beats being in Christian community. Of course such authenticity can be found in megachurches’ small groups too. However there are special joys in being part of an extended church family network such as is found in many small churches. Staying put over the long haul, building deep abiding friendships through serving, woshiping, praying, dreaming, weeping and laughing together, and having shared experiences over decades is absolutely irreplaceable. I hope and pray that the younger generation will be able experience this kind of rootedness, stability and communal strength too.