I serve two small churches…with one being, well, really small. And the churches I’ve served throughout ministry have been small. I’d say three of them have been healthy and two have not. And, I confess to looking with envy at times at the bigger churches. They have such “shiny” programming and it seems they have the cool, young families. But there’s something about smaller churches that have appealed to me — even as we’ve been trying to reach out in concern and service to the world.
So it was a joy to stumble onto Erica Schemper’s words today over at Think Christian as she reflects on the State of the Church:
One of the things I’ve learned is that there is much more to congregational health than numbers. Every church I’ve served has been a healthy congregation, sustained by decades of faithful work by gifted congregants and dedicated pastors. No one would question the health of a 500-member church that was continuing to grow. But we might easily forget that there can also be incredible health in spite of numbers. For instance, my most recent church might have 70 people worshipping on a Sunday, but frequently 20 of those 70 are under the age of 18. Of the 70 people attending worship, 50 of them are engaged in at least two ministry areas or programs besides Sunday morning worship. I describe this sort of congregation as “small but mighty.” There are larger church congregations that can’t touch these percentages of young worshippers or congregational involvement in multiple aspects of church life.
A small but mighty congregation may have some advantages over larger churches in a shifting religious landscape. For instance, a smaller church can be more nimble—pivoting and responding to the needs of its community more quickly because there is simply less structure involved in a change of course. Smaller churches are also more likely to be the sort of place where everyone knows your name, making it easier to create a sense of interwoven community. (Every larger church I’ve worked at has been forced to create small group experiences, whereas tiny churches are naturally a small group experience.) What’s more, smaller churches, particularly those that are healthy, are forced to do the work of pruning: deciding what is really central to their identity as a worshipping community and fellowship of believers, and letting the stuff that doesn’t matter as much fall away. A smaller flock isn’t such a bad way to do church, and perhaps what this Barna report tells us is that there are many Christians who appreciate the benefits of small community.
“Small but mighty!” I like that.