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preaching article Who Says Bigger Is Better? 3 Reasons I'm Convinced God Works Through Small Churches

Who Says Bigger Is Better? 3 Reasons I'm Convinced God Works Through Small Churches

based on 8 ratings
Oct 1, 2014

Bigger is not necessarily better. When I need to tighten a screw in my glasses, I need the right tool for the job—a tiny little screwdriver.

It’s the same with churches. God uses big churches for certain Kingdom jobs, and God uses little churches for specific assignments. Bigger churches can do things smaller cannot do. And little churches do things much larger churches can never do.

Statistically speaking, the vast majority of churches in America average fewer than 500 in weekly attendance. In fact, the best data suggests that approximately 35 percent of American churches average between 100-499, and at least 60 percent of churches in America have an average attendance between 1-99 people.

No more than 2.5 or 3 percent of American churches fall into the category of being a “megachurch.” Those that do are really phenomena of the modern cultural era. It would appear that God in His sovereignty finds small tools abundantly necessary for His work in the world.

Here are three reasons I am convinced God most often builds His church small:

1. Family Connection: While I’m not suggesting that this dynamic of the smaller church is not present in larger churches, I am asserting that it is uniquely present in smaller churches. This dynamic does bring challenges.

When I speak to the board of deacons about an unruly choir member, it may be his wife. Smaller local churches are usually comprised of two or three family groups that make up as much as half or two-thirds of the church membership. In smaller local churches when two young people from the youth of the church marry there is a very good chance that they will be united with a number of church members as in-laws.

The great advantage of this dynamic is that when smaller churches aim at evangelism, they have a ready-made mission field of people they know and love. If approached in healthy and simple ways, by inviting unsaved family members to fun but Christ centered outreach events, for example, the family dynamic allows for a kind of familiarity that is just plain difficult to cultivate in larger churches. 

2. Friendship With the Pastor: For me, this is one of the most beautiful aspects of the local church. It’s funny to me that I have had more interaction with one of my former pastors, who happens to shepherd a megachurch I was formerly a member of, since becoming a pastor than I ever did when I was a member of his flock. This is really not to his discredit; he is a great pastor and fantastic leader.

The simple truth is that the megachurch high volume of people dynamic does not usually lend itself well to parishioners or visitors getting to know or in some cases even shaking the hand of the pastor. In the smaller churches the man teaching the sermon is accessible. A parishioner or visitor can get to know their pastor and in so doing gain a more robust understanding of the meaning and context of the perspective he brings to the proclamation of God’s Word.

Rather than becoming a cult of personality with their notoriety centered on their pulpit ministry, the effective local church pastor tends to become more like an extended member of the family. He and his family are common sights at family birthday parties and graduations.

Congregational pastor Washington Gladden said it this way a century and a half ago: “The pulpit is your throne, no doubt, but then a throne is stable as it rests on the affections of the people, and to get their affections you must visit them in their dwellings.” (Gladden, The Christian Pastor, Scribner 1911) The small church pastor is uniquely positioned to be a friend to the members of his parish.

3. Friendship With Others: While it is not always the case that small churches are more welcoming, it is simple logic that a space filled with fewer people is more likely to allow for a new person to become integrated into the faith community. Granted, this is an area of constant struggle in smaller churches. We must take care to avoid an “us vs. the world” mentality that tends to make many smaller churches a difficult-to-get-into club rather than an easy place to assimilate.

If cultivated effectively, the small church is positioned to be a place where “life on life” happens in a one-on-one lifestyle of intimate Christian discipleship. The pastor can know his people. The people can know their pastor. In healthy smaller churches who know who they are and accept their role as one of many smaller tools in the Master’s toolbox, the journey of following Jesus can be a deep sojourn walked out in unison with close friends who share a local community, a mutual history, very likely a family connection or two and the love of God together.

We don’t need huge crowds to have a church. We don’t need tremendous financial resources to effectively follow Jesus. We just need a few people who want to glorify God and fellowship together in Jesus' name. “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20 NIV84).

In addition to shepherding the flock as Pastor of Liberty Spring Christian Church in Suffolk, Virginia. Chris Surber is also Founder and Director of Supply and Multiply in Montrouis, Haiti. 

Talk about it...

Michael L Winship avatar
Michael L Winship
0 days ago
I think the small church needs to make a new comeback in the United States I think we need a more personal relationships with our neighborhoods and the families in them. As a child I remember the pastor walking the neighborhood meeting and greeting people having dinner at their homes we just don't see that today. We need to get back to the grass roots of religion
Kenneth Mandley avatar
Kenneth Mandley
0 days ago
Small churches don't need a comeback because we're already in the majority. What DOES need to happen is for the public 'leaders' of the American church to recognize small churches as viable in the same way that Chris did in this excellent article and that Karl Vader does in his blog, articles and book
Dan Bauder avatar
Dan Bauder
0 days ago
I agree with you brother!
James Wing avatar
James Wing
0 days ago
Philip Yancey wrote an article for Christianity Today back in May 1996 entitled "Why I Don't Go to a Megachurch". His main point: In a small church, we are forced to be with people and to work with people that we might not naturally gravitate to. There are more opportunities to get conflict resolution right and to continue to walk in love and work together in love.
Chris Surber avatar
Chris Surber
0 days ago
Yancy's thoughts are very close to the center of my heart on this issue. Thanks brother.
Glenn Hawkins avatar
Glenn Hawkins
0 days ago
My what a novel idea! to be forced to be with members of the Body of Christ we "might not naturally gravitate to". Why, it's almost like, well, a life lab where we become, in miniature, Jesus' answer to His prayer to the Father that "we might be one." And we know that when we are one, THEN the world will know that the Father sent the Son to be their Savior. Fantastic response, brother!
Richard Rodriguez avatar
Richard Rodriguez
0 days ago
I pastor a small congregation. Many people from larger congregations come to us for counselling, they come on a Monday night for an experiential, intimate time with Holy Spirit and some come to our Bible College. My concern lies in obvious point that while they get general Bible teaching, the time for a deeper walk is not possible as they are herded in and out in an hour or less. You do not have to be large to accomplish as much. If ministers would simply do what they are called to do and not get side tracked with program after program they would be more effective.
Jeff Glenn avatar
Jeff Glenn
0 days ago
I pastor a small church (about 30 people...sometimes!), but in our area, most folks are "migrating" to the bigger churches because they (bigger churches) can "offer" more for families than the smaller churches in our area. Yes, I agree, there's more a of "family atmosphere" in the smaller church, but I guess, as in our area, the "family atmosphere" is not what they're looking for.
Dan Bauder avatar
Dan Bauder
0 days ago
Jeff, I pastor a very small church (12-18 on any given Sunday) but we do have a sense of community folks can't find in a big church. I have learned when we stay true to God's Word in our preaching God will send folks our way.
Jeff Glenn avatar
Jeff Glenn
0 days ago
Dan, I understand where you're coming from. I have seen people come in, get excited about what's going on at our church...only to see them leave after a few months (or less). Sometimes I think that if I was a better pastor and/or preacher things would be different.
Leonard Ward avatar
Leonard Ward
0 days ago
I think we all feel the same way.
Mark Fleming avatar
Mark Fleming
0 days ago
Jeff, Do not beat yourself up. God has placed you where He wishes you to be at this time of your ministry calling. Be encouraged. We are living in times when people are so used to a consumer mentality and sad to say, it is affecting their decisions in churches also. I have been a member at a small church for the past 21 years and the attendance has stayed at 35-45 in these years. I have wondered questioned and prayed about what God's direction is to be in my life, and He has called me to remain faithful where I am. I have experienced so many great opportunities to be involved in God's work in this small church. It has been a true blessing in my life. I am a deacon and also lead our worship service for the past year. I don't necessary feel that I have a great voice, but God just called me to be faithful and obedient. I believe He would tell you the same. Prayers for you each. Stay strong "Men of God."
Jeff Glenn avatar
Jeff Glenn
0 days ago
Mark, thank you for your words of encouragement!
Leonard Ward avatar
Leonard Ward
0 days ago
Len Ward of River of Life Church, Lakeland, Florida. Oct. 1, 2014. I am the pastor of our church. On Sunday mornings as of late we have been averaging 70 to 75 people. Our church is surrounded by mega churches. But I wouldn't trade what we have for a 1000 mega churches. Probably the most discouraging thing that we deal with however is teaching people to stand when the storms come. People have the mentality today that when things don't go their way they disappear. Accountability to Christ in this generation in America is or probably seems to be at an all-time low. I have been saying this now for sometime, there hasn't been a greater opportunity for individuals to shine for Christ than right now. It seems the middle ground is being removed. You either love The Lord with all your heart and serve Him joyfully or you withdraw and distance yourself from Him. Small churches have nothing to be ashamed of. They truly are filled with wonderful servants of Christ.
Leonard Ward avatar
Leonard Ward
0 days ago
But let me add, on off days( vacations, family gatherings, hospital situations), we easily can drop into the thirties. And that's when you have to grab yourself by your golly whopper and remind yourself to be thankful in all things even though you see the church around the corner that has 8000 members with full parking lots. There is a price to pay however in those mega churches. In a small church when people get up to sing they don't have to be perfect. In a mega church you tend to have a select few that are seemingly perfect that are allowed to sing. While many are simply overlooked and forgotten. And that tends to follow suit in most areas of the ministry. I, personally, would rather see someone get up and sing, though not dressed perfect or in all the right keys yet anointed because God is able to do such things then someone who has everything but not an ounce of God on their performance. So many advantages to small churches! It's where the David's are found.
Kevin Wilson avatar
Kevin Wilson
0 days ago
As a minister who has chosen to stay in a church of less than 50 people here in Portsmouth, Va. for 24 years, I appreciate the affirmation pastor!
Chris Surber avatar
Chris Surber
0 days ago
You're welcome! Blessings brother.
Alexander Drysdale Lay Preacher Uca Australia avatar
Alexander Drysdale Lay Preacher Uca Australia
0 days ago
As a travelling Lay Preacher I visit many congregations some much more regularly than others and if I have a congregation of 50 it is a large one. You get to know people and know them quite well, perhaps staying with them overnight because of travelling distance or for lunch after the service. I am blessed by being asked back. Christian devotedness never fails to amaze me. The input from smaller congregations is far greater than any mega church.
Mark Fleming avatar
Mark Fleming
0 days ago
Great read Chris. I shared it on my church's Facebook group page. I am currently reading "The Strategically Small Church", by Brandon J. O'Brien. It speaks of some of the same thoughts you shared.
John S. Marquis avatar
John S. Marquis
0 days ago
Great book!
Suresh Manoharan avatar
Suresh Manoharan
0 days ago
What an encouraging article for the Pastors' of all the smaller Churches'. When there is a mention of the Early Churches' meeting in the homes of Philemon (Philemon1:2) or Gauis (Romans 16:23), it is both an affirmation of truth of existence of small Churches' in First Century AD plus it is a Divine endorsement of the same.
Richard Kuhn avatar
Richard Kuhn
0 days ago
Small churches remain small - for all of the above reasons which are laudable, until you see them becoming a hindrance to the gospel. You would take your child to the doctor quickly if it didn't grow, but somehow think there is no problem when small church doesn't grow. WHY? Because so often church is about them. Feed ME, Pastor. Care for ME, Pastor. Visit ME, Pastor. And the pastor lets the flock dictate those things. But, NO church with a deep commitment to getting the lost saved will remain small. They can't help it. They have something precious to share and they want others to find it. What are small churches that remain that way long term - hoarders of the grace of God. ALL churches, including megachurches started out small. The difference is when a church finds themselves having stunted growth, they either see that is something wrong or something to be praised. I stopped preaching in small churches (long term) because they had almost no passion for the gospel and could have removed the cross from the steeple and simply changed it to a social gathering. I believe with all my heart that God IS working in small churches, even long term small churches. The question is whether that is happening because of the church or in spite of it.
John S. Marquis avatar
John S. Marquis
0 days ago
Chris, I believe you hit the nail on the head with all three points as they all point to a spiritual axiom demonstrated by Christ. It is this, authentic Christianity is conceived and grows in the context of relationship. This does not only include evangelism and discipleship but also includes corporate worship. We all know from group dynamic that once there are more then approximately 120 people the dynamics of the group changes such that the intimacy level drops. People don't know each others names or stories and the level of relationship drops. I believe this affects our worship both corporately and individually. The NT church was a network of house churches that collectively represented a town or city. They purposed together to function as the Body but worshiped primarily in smaller groups and this formula made them effective.

So, what did you think?


Thank you.