I find myself often explaining to people that I am not opposed to large churches. I am afraid that in conversations I can so emphasize my love for the small church that I sound like I think that large churches are wrong. I then have to explain that I believe that God works through all sizes of church.
In fact I owe a debt to large church because they have ministered to me in a number of ways. There have been a couple of times in my life in which I needed to pull back from ministry and just be fed by someone else. During those periods I have attended a large church where I could be built up without feeling like I had to serve. I appreciate the pastors of those churches who gave me the opportunity just to attend without asking anything of me.
I have been mentored by some pastors of large churches. I don’t mean that I met with them in person but they built into my life through the books that they wrote. I have noticed that it tends to be the pastors of large churches that write books. I have been blessed by the writings of John Stott and Bill Hybels just to name two. They have deeply impacted my life.
All of this to say that I am thankful for large churches and all that they accomplish but my passion is for the small church. I believe that the small church has a special role to fulfill in the Canadian church scene that can only be filled by small churches. With this in mind I want to share some strengths of the small church.
Relationships should be more natural in the small church
At the heart of church life in the twenty-first century must be relationships. The church has been called to make disciples and disciples are most effectively made in the context of relationships. One of the most serious mistakes that a church can make is to look for a program or a course that can be taught to perspective disciples and then think that when a person is finished the course he will be a disciple. These may be tools that can be used but they will never be the heart of disciple-making.
Disciples are most effectively made within the framework of relationships. They are made when a mature disciple invests his life into a person who is less advanced in his walk with God. Disciples are best made in a relationship of love, trust and concern.
This should be what naturally happens in a small church. I have asked people in many different settings what it is that makes their small church special. What is the strength of their church that makes it a group that they want to be part of? Always without exception their answer has to do with relationships. We are family. We love each other. People in this church really care. I know that there are people who are concerned about me.
There are instances in which those relationships aren’t as strong as they should be or in which they don’t extend to anyone who isn’t already part of the church but that is a subject for another blog entry. Relationships should be the number one strength of the small church.
Large churches have to work hard in order to develop the kind of relationships that should just be a natural part of small-church life.
Inter-generational ministry should be a natural part of the small church
One of the greatest impacts that any church can have is that of developing the next generation of church leaders. Churches tend to think of doing this through a youth group of some sort. The problem often for small churches is that they don’t have enough young people to run a traditional group. When that is the case a church needs to stop lamenting the fact that they only have a few teenagers and start thinking in terms of how the adults in the church can invest their lives into the lives of the teenagers that do attend.
The goal should not be to duplicate the youth group of the large church down the street but to build those young people that God has already entrusted to the church into solid disciples of Jesus Christ. Small churches are naturally inter-generational. They have no choice. Some times they feel like they barely have enough people for the main worship service without trying to provide a service just for the teenagers. They need to use that inter-generational nature of their church to good advantage.
Opportunities for ministry come naturally in the small church
When I was seventeen years of age the youth leader in our church came up with what I thought was a crazy suggestion. She thought that it would be a good idea for the teenagers to lead a Sunday morning service. We would do everything involved from planning to conducting the service for one Sunday. Even though we thought she was crazy, we agreed to do it.
I preached my first sermon in that service. My wife played the piano for the first time in a public setting. Other young people read scripture in public for the first time, played instruments and shared in other ways. I have often thought back to that service and wondered about the impact that it had on my life. As frightened as I was and as limited in content as the sermon was, I had the opportunity to preach when I was just seventeen. There is no seventeen year old in a large church that is going to get the opportunity to preach on a Sunday morning. I am deeply thankful for the opportunity I had to serve.
A disproportionate number of leaders come out of small churches and an important reason is that they have the opportunity to do things that they wouldn’t get to do in a larger setting.
My goal each week as I write these blog entries is to keep them to approximately one thousand words. I have reached that point already so I am going to finish this up in next week’s entry. In the mean time God bless you as you serve in that very special setting of the small church.