I love riddles like “When is less really more?” “When is up really down?” and “When is small really large?”
I’ll leave you guessing on the first two (hint on Nos. 1 and 2: Matthew 16:26; Mark 10:44-45). I want to resolve the last riddle.
Many small churches have inferiority complexes, thinking there are many things they can’t do, so many people pass them by. Sad. I know because I was raised in a church which never averaged more than 150 attenders on Sunday mornings.
This is also sad because there are so many small churches. The average size church in America is around 75, and about 60% of U.S. congregations have fewer than 100 worshipers per week, 80% under 200.
• I’ve also seen statistics that say the number of full time Christian workers that come out of small churches is far greater, proportionally, than those who come from large churches.
• The ubiquitous big back door where people leave as fast as they come in revolves faster in midsize and large churches than smaller.
• Larger churches, because of their attractive and abundant programs, seem to attract more curiosity seekers and “consumer” Christians who want to receive more from church than they give.
• The pastor of Scum Of the Earth Church, a megachurch (over 2,000 in attendance) in Colorado, urged pastors with an “edifice complex” to sell their big church buildings to some department store, because millennials don’t want to maintain them. They want their money to go to ministry and people. They want intimacy and the nebulous, much sought-after “community.”
Larger churches will argue that community can be found in any church that has healthy small groups. I would agree.
But Amy Julia Becker recently made a compelling case for why her kids didn’t need a megachurch.
“I used to think that the smallness of our church would hinder our kids’ spiritual development. Our former … church counted over 400 members … [then] we moved to a small town. I thought [the new] little church couldn’t possibly offer everything we hoped for … I wasn’t convinced such a small place could help me grow … [it] has no bells and whistles … no performances or productions … [but it has] worship, prayer, Bible-reading and people who love them … the frail and broken body engaging in the healing work of Christ … [the kids have] rolled up their sleeves on “grubby Sunday” to scrub fingerprints off the walls … handed out programs and read Scripture [in the main service], written notes of condolences … perhaps the things I thought were deficiencies are really gifts. Perhaps they will return week after week to a place there they experience a taste of the kingdom of God, a home that sends them out to be salt and light in the world.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
That is no small thing!
“Do not despise the day of small things … God has chosen the weak things of this world to shame the strong.” (Zechariah 4:10; I Corinthians 1:27)
Rick Sams is pastor emeritus of Alliance Friends Church.