By Billy Sharpston
Along the streets in large cities, in small towns, in villages and in rural areas, small churches meet the needs of people from all walks of life. What impact do they have on their communities? We have a great heritage in the churches of our land and their work in proclaiming the gospel.
In his book, Shepherding the Small Church,Glenn Daman says, “Seventy-five percent of America’s churches have an average weekly attendance of 150 or less, yet they often find themselves in the shadow of a few megachurches with boundless entrepreneurial skills and ministry resources. When the pastors of the typically-sized congregation attend church growth and leadership conferences, they can easily come away discouraged and disillusioned, having found little help to impact their ministries.”
Zechariah posed the question, “…who hath despised the day of small things?” We understand that God has a place for the existence of small churches. They, too, play an important part in proclaiming the Word of God.
Daman says, “The vitality of a congregation is not found in its size or its programs or budget. The vitality of a congregation is found in its fulfillment of God’s purpose for the church. A church that has 5,000 members may be just as unhealthy and ineffective as a church that has only 50 members and is declining. Conversely, a church with fifty members who are fulfilling God’s mission can be as healthy and dynamic as a church with thousands of members.”
Therefore, these [small] churches do not need to be looked down on as having no importance. There is a need for their existence in our society. Churches do not close because they lack members and financial resources. Churches close when they are no longer effective in fulfilling God’s purpose for them.
God has given the small church many gifts. These are to be used for a purpose. These expectant communities of grace march forward under the lordship of Christ. They know God still calls the small churches to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).
Small congregations are unique to themselves in that they have their own personality. They are a close-knit people with strong family ties within the church. Many grow up in the church from one generation to the next. They assume leadership roles and develop fundamental biblical beliefs in the scriptures.
A pastor can be effective in leadership by making sure no one is overlooked. In a small church setting, he is the caregiver and counselor to all in the congregation. Everybody is important, and that’s the way it should be.
All we need do is look at the power of joyous optimism in small churches. For instance, the early church knew that in spite of their small numbers, lack of money and personal limitations, they were going to win. They went out in joy even in the midst of persecution. That’s the spirit in which we must win the victory today if we continue as the church (even though small) triumphant. Jesus said, “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world!”
Is it possible that small churches have no place in this 21st century high-tech, megachurch, user-friendly society? In my opinion, the small church will be with us until Jesus comes. They are made up of people who have a commitment to the Lord and to His work.
There should be no sense of shame for the existence of small churches in our society. They influence a great number of people in their community. They may not have the staff or program that large churches do, but their programs, though simple in many ways, are effective. Worship, family and fellowship are important to them.
A strong sense of preaching and teaching the Word of God, standards and purpose are vital. A desire to belong to a small group is prevalent in many communities. If a community has a small church with growth potential, that church should make a strong effort to evangelize.
It is quite interesting that small churches remain, while everything else is changing. Small churches are tenacious. Some would call them tough. They do not give up when faced with problems. Neither do they experience rapid shift of membership. In membership participation, the majority of small churches have not varied 10 percent in any given decade.
Where the large church may be unable to reach, the small church can carry on the gospel in their community, support missions both home and foreign. Small churches are useful. They will not die. Often without an abundance of funds, many times without a pastor, deprived of denominational contact or intentionally independent from outside connections, the small congregation will persevere.
Many members resist the rational proposals to “save our church” through moving, merging, yoking or teaming. Members have faith that they can hold on somehow. In the words of one frustrated denominational fwbpastove, “Small churches are the toughest: they won’t grow and they won’t go away.”
So what is the conclusion of the matter regarding small churches and their role in our society? Small churches have restored a basic dimension to the fullness of biblical theology. Small churches have reclaimed the importance of times, events and history. Small churches have memorialized the significance of the people, the land and the particular places. Small churches have retained the “good feelings, rhythms, seasons and experiences worth remembering.” Someone spoke of it in the following manner:
In a big world, the small church has remained intimate.
In a fast world, the small church has been steady.
In an expensive world, the small church has remained plain.
In a complex world, the small church has remained simple.
In a rational world, the small church has kept feelings.
In a mobile world, the small church has been an anchor.
In an anonymous world, the small church calls us by name—even by nickname!
As a result, small churches provide the wonderful love of God in even the most difficult of circumstances. As one said, “There is a place for small churches in a world where people plant their own trees.”
About the Writer:Dr. Billy Sharpston is a pastor in Ohio.