The majority of local churches in my faith group are small in attendance. Small as in a hundred or less. Sometimes a lot less. True, there are some large congregations (often connected to a church-run hospital or university). But the typical corner church by the gas station could travel in a regular-size Greyhound bus.
Lest you think I’m complaining or that I feel embarrassed by those numbers, let me assure you I’m not. A small church can be a healthy church. A church with a large congregation, two choirs, a pipe organ, a full-time gardener, and a pastoral staff of eight isn’t necessarily a healthy church.
Let me explain: It’s easy to get lost in a big church. Studies show that the sales rep who wakes up in a motel in a strange town and decides to please his wife and go to church will go to the largest one he can find. Why? Anonymity. He likes to be able to slip in, unnoticed, and an hour later slip out, unnoticed. That’s harder to do in a small church.
This isn’t a harangue against big churches, it’s an observation. And it’s a plea: Keep your church small. I’m not talking about the building or even the number of people in the building; I’m talking about the groups of people who pastor each other. Maybe a dozen who have a weekly Bible study in the corner of the Fellowship Hall. They spend the first ten minutes of every class praying for each other. And not in pious generalities, but in specifics.
They may begin by asking the person next to them, “How did your week go? How can I pray for you today?” That simple, mutual ministry often ends up with both of them in tears. Not because one of them reports they’ve just been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer or their spouse didn’t come home last night, but rather when they come to realize that somebody really cares about them…that somebody will call again during the week. Just to pray. That’s a church-in-a-church and it’s a great place to find healing. And hope.
Mid-week prayer service is not an auditorium full of listeners. It’s small groups of caring people who ask each other our question: “How can I pray for you this evening?” And if you’re not there, they call you on their way home. Not to pry, but just so you’ll know you were missed, and that you were prayed for anyway. That’s a hard place to stay away from.
People who study this stuff tell us that between 70 and 80% of Christians don’t show up regularly for church anymore. That’s one of the things that makes a
“small church” so attractive. It puts a song in your heart to know you were missed.
By Don Jacobsen