The advantages of being small

small church

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.

Absolutely irreplaceable

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.

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  • Thanks for the insightful comments.

    what size would you consider to be ideal for a small church?

    Will resources (financial and people) be a problem for small churches?

    • Alex, its difficult to be a small church in land-scarce and highly regulated Singapore. Putting aside $3,000 a month for rent, $3,000 for a pastor’s starting salary, and $1,000 for ministry means $7,000. You then need about 28 members each pledging to give $250 a month.

      But if you somehow remove the rental cost. Or the pastor is bi-vocational and does not take a salary or is elders-led, like the Brethren churches, or you have a very generous rich member(highly unlikely as they will prefer a megachurch), or if everyone is a student, then everything changes.

      A small church will find it hard put to find people with the talents and resources to run the ministries that satisfy the generally high and sophisticated expectations of an increasingly upwardly mobile generation. The large and megachurches are runaway winners in this aspect. The medium sized are stretched but okay.

      Small churches that provide authentic Christan community and intentional discipleship are doing things that megachurches usually do not do well and this is their glory.

      In Singapore, 200 to 500 is a good size for a small church to be, for the above reasons. Tiny, small, medium, large, mega: the numbers different experts posit for each are all arbitrary. For fun using New Testament numbers you are familiar with: 3-12(Jesus disciples) is a small group; 70(Jesus mission team) is a small church; 200(upper room) is a medium-sized church; 3,000(day of Pentecost) is a large church; and 5000(after healing of the lame man) is a megachurch. How’s that for arbitrary hermeneutics!

  • Small churches rock! You get a level of community that you could never get in a huge church. I wish big churches would multiply as they grow bigger and allow different leaders to take charge of different congregations/churches.

    Having said that, there are tons of Christians who are hurt and are not yet ready for that intimate level of community. They’d rather just blend in the crowd of a big church and not get too close to other Christians or too involved in ministry.

    On the minus side, small churches can be too closed to new members and outsiders and too inward looking. Furthermore, for too small a church, it’s hard to grow because sometimes you need to reach some tipping point to get it growing.

    • I notice as I reply to the comments the idea of authentic community keeps cropping up. It’s inbuilt in us. Part of the image of God, who Himself is a “small community”: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

      • Dear Kenny, I am filled with JOY and celebrate with you in your journey of finding your strength and niche with the idea of Authentic Community! I encourage you to build upon it.

        But please do not subscribe to the thought or fear that your church will lose the spirit of community when you grow into a big church one day!

        Let’s believe that when God bless and cause your church to grow big, His Grace is more than sufficient to sustain you and gives you breakthrough from this idea of SIZE vs COMMUNITY seesaw.

        • Hi Steven, Last para second sentence of my blog post: “Of course such authenticity can be found in megachurches’ small groups too”. Blessings.

  • Both small churches and megachurches have their pros and cons.

    I grew up in a small church and enjoyed the intimacy there. Even today, after more than thirty years, my then senior pastor Rev Oh and his wife remember my whole family (mum, brother and sisters and me).

    However, the church grew and grew, senior pastors changed, more unfamiliar people joined the church and soon the sense of intimacy was lost. Eventually, I also lost interest in going to church because of the lack of intimacy.

    After I joined NCC, I realized that the lack of intimacy within in my former church affected me BUT did not affect me in NCC because NCC lead me to intimacy with God and Christ. Although I am now in a megachurch of 20,000, I do not have any issue with just being a face in the crowd because my focus when attending church is now on knowing God better, rather than fellowship with friends. In any case, God has not neglected the fellowship aspect in my faith walk and has somehow brought like-hearted Christians (Kat, Geri, Angie, Mal, Jeff, etc) into my circle.

    One huge advantage of a megachurch is its strength in numbers. Because of its scale, the megachurch is better able to exert a positive influence on society eg. NCC has donated large sums money to charity over the years, most recently S$100,000 to ChildAid2009 and US$30,000 to Haiti Earthquake Relief.

    This is not possible for small churches which tend to be more preoccupied with ensuring its own survival. Bigger churches will enjoy economies of scale and can then make better use of its personnel and finances to look outward rather than inward.

  • I grew up in a Methodist church that went from a house church to having its own building with about a few hundred members. Then, I moved to a megachurch after I got married.

    There are definitely pros and cons to each type of church.

    I tend to think, however, that if you have a charismatic leader with an impactful and unique message for the masses (not forgetting the many miracles/testimonies that accompany it), the church cannot help but grow — by leaps and bounds.

    • Interesting comment – “……if you have a charismatic leader with impactful and unique massage for the masses….” and intriguing – does this imply:-

      1. If the church does not grow (after 5 10 years, then the leader is boring and the message is not unique, we should consider putting the leader to pasture like the non performing corporate CEOs?

      2. Am I mistaken to think that it is always about the spreading the gospel and not about sexing up a unique message to gain an audience.

  • The size of the church doesn’t really matter; at least to me.

    How big or how small is according to the grace of God given to them. More important to consider and take heed how he builds on it.

    1 Corinthians 3:10
    According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

    Let there be superabundance of grace in the church you are building!

  • Hi Kenny, thanks for your inputs. I think you mentioned some important aspects of communal living in our Christian life.

  • Any church open to accept for non-chinese worshippers such as malays or indians or arabs who are christians?

    i find that some churches are albeit racist in their congregation and looks weirdly at others who are not of the same race.

    hmmmm wonder what jesus would think of you guys? just giving my 1 cent thought on singapore christian churches.

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