You know them. You drive by them frequently. Small churches, perhaps on a street corner in a rundown part of the city, or back in the woods. You see the dilapidated facade, the faded paint and you wonder, “Why would anyone go to that church?”
As a pastor of one of those churches, I want everyone who drives by and asks that question to know a few things.
First, small does not mean un-spiritual or unhealthy. A pernicious assumption has filtered through American evangelicalism: bigger is better and bigger is healthier. The assumption is undergirded by another assumption: bigger means blessed. These assumptions result in a Christian culture which assumes that bigger churches are more blessed by God. Bigger churches are more used by God. Bigger churches are more faithful to God. The regular Joes in the pews begin to think when they drive by a small church like mine that my church is somehow unfaithful. Somehow not blessed. Somehow unhealthy. Not many would be so bold as to voice this opinion aloud, but it is there.
What I would like to say to you is this: don’t judge a church’s faithfulness, or blessedness, or health, by its size. Duffau Baptist Church, where I pastor, is going into its 139th year. This church has remained after the railroad bypassed it and went through Stephenville (a railroad bypassing a small town in the late 1800s or early 1900s was usually a death sentence for a town). This church has remained after the people of Duffau left and the community withered away. This church has remained even after the Duffau school has closed. It has remained due to God’s faithfulness to it and the church’s faithfulness to God. This is all to say: next time, when you drive by that small church you imagined earlier, resist the temptation to judge its faithfulness, blessedness or health.
Second, we need you. There is an interesting trend developing in evangelical Christianity. There are many Christians who are driving an hour or more to attend a particular church. The reasons are many and varied: the church has the right kind of music, the right kind of preacher, or the right kind of coffee. Sometimes they might drive that distance to attend a church that holds to their doctrinal positions and that is not a problem. However, driving to attend a church because of preferences in music, the personality of the preacher or the peculiarity of the coffee presents a problem. The problem is the problem of preference born out of the fires of consumerism. We will drive hours to go to the right restaurant, to the right store or to the right school. We want a preference and we want a church that meets every preference we might have, whether it be music, or preaching or coffee.
This problem of preference affects small churches particularly because there are churches in your neighborhood, town or area that need you. We need you not for the increased head count. We need you because you are a Christian who has been gifted by the Holy Spirit. We need you because you are a Christian who can serve your community. We need you because you can provide leadership and service that is disappearing in our churches. We need you because the Father has called you into his Salvation and the Spirit has and is equipping you for the work of serving God in his local church. We need you because we need Christians who can provide godly witness in their community. In sum, we need you because you are a Christian.
And this brings us to one of the awkward problems in modern evanagelical Christianity: anonymity and megachurches. It is easy to go to a church and plop yourself on the back row, sing with all of your heart, listen intently to a famous and excellent preacher deliver a sensational sermon. Other than that awkward greeting time that some churches have, you don’t actually have to know anyone. And strangely enough, the church does not need you, or it does not need you in the same way a small church does. They have paid musicians. They have paid childcare workers. They have handpicked Sunday School teachers. They have an entire organization created and handcrafted so that a person attending their church does not have to do much.
Megachurches realize this problem; many of these churches are constantly reminding and pleading with their attenders to “plug in”, or become involved, somewhere in the church and usually becoming “plugged in” means joining a small group. A small group is a group of Christians who meet regularly and invest in each other’s lives. This solution is fascinating because that is what a small church is! It is a group of believers who meet together and invest in each other’s lives. If you want to serve the church, if you want to be connected to other believers, join a small church. You will meet more people and know more about them than you probably want to! And these churches want you. They need you. If the gospel witness is to continue in the rural areas, the urban areas, the unreached areas, it is going to require believers to become committed not just to the church, but to a small local church.
Third, small churches will show your kids what holiness is. People decry small churches because they are filled with old people who like old music. Many do not understand that old people present the model of lifelong godliness and faithfulness that you can set before your children.
I am blessed to serve in a church where we have a bunch of old people and I am very proud for my daughters to know them. I have couples in my church who have been married for 60 years! And they still like each other! What greater testimony to marriage can that be to my daughters! One of my deacons is in excruciating pain every single day as his body rebels against him and yet you would hard pressed to find him feeling sorry for himself or griping about his condition. What greater testimony to suffering like Christ could I set before my daughters! The godliness and holiness set before my daughters every Sunday and Wednesday in the forms of these dairymen, construction workers, secretaries and nurses is something you cannot find everywhere. It is not something you can find in churches that are only filled with 20 and 30 year olds. No, holiness like that can only be witnessed in the old people who have lived and suffered and wept and prayed and trusted and believed.
One could easily assume from this post that I hate large churches. This is not the case; after all, my family and I were a part of two larger churches. No, this post is to help those who can never imagine attending a small church, much less serving in one, to see that these churches, like Duffau Baptist and numerous others across the nation, need your support. This support could be your attending, joining and serving in a small church. Or it could be merely this: instead of asking, “Why would anyone go to that church?”, you now say, “Thank God for that church and its ministry!”