Preaching Articles

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 less 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. 

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Dennis Cocks

commented on Nov 16, 2013

Very good article. I am the pastor of a small church (around 70). I am always trying to encourage our people that just because we are small doesn't mean we can't be mighty in the Lord!

Jeff Glenn

commented on Nov 17, 2013

Wow, we have about 30 people and I'm trying to do the same thing...mostly to myself!

Dennis Cocks

commented on Nov 17, 2013

Amen Jeff, I have to keep telling myself so I can be encouraged also!

John Crisp

commented on Nov 18, 2013

We have about 50 for worship on Sunday AM, been talking up the same message, we need to have an imprint in the community.

Dave Peterson

commented on Nov 19, 2013

Enjoyed the article too...the church I pastor runs around 80 to 100 right now...when I first became the pastor there was only 10 people coming. That was 9 years ago. Sometimes we feel like a big church size, like age, is often just a number or a thought...compared to other churches we are very small, compared to where we were, we are very big. I find that far too often, most books and articles written to help pastors and churches tend to be for large churches. I remember one pastor trying to give me some helpful advice asked how big our staff was. I told them that I was the only "staff" we had. He really had no advice after that to offer me.

Spencer Miller

commented on Nov 16, 2013

Good bless you for the wonderful insight you have provided us today. The Rev. Mack King Carter of Florida (a pastor of a mega church) once said, "I'd rather pastor five blood bought and saved Christians under an old oak tree than five thousand lukewarm Christians in a cathedral any day."

Dale Arnett

commented on Nov 17, 2013

Great article, not demeaning at all to larger churches but does speak truth to smaller church environments. Just a side note though, when quoting the scripture "where two or three are gathered in my name be aware that that scripture alludes to settling church conflict not necessarily to the presence of God in a gathering of people.

Dale Arnett

commented on Nov 17, 2013

Great article, poor quote of scripture to confirm truth. Where two or three are gathered..... speaks to settling church conflict.

Bobby Smith

commented on Nov 17, 2013

Very good article! Just wanted to throw in my two cents about the use of two or three gathered scripture... I do understand it is refering to conflick resolution as I am sure my brother who wrote this article is, however I can't get past the bigger idea here and that is that He is there! If He is there when there are 2 or 3 gathered in the midst of a conflict, how much more anxciuos would He be to be there when we are gathered in His name for any reason? And if He is going to be there......that is where I want to be!

Karl Vaters

commented on Nov 17, 2013

Great article, Chris! It's great to see more people stepping up for the value of Small Churches without demeaning large ones.

Christian Obinna Nwator

commented on Nov 18, 2013

Thank you for the wonderful insight,I am a Pastor of a small church,but I am not consigned about the size of the church,but the size of my God in as much as there is room for growth.There is a comment some people raised but I want to shed more light to it,when the bible says"where two or three are gathered together in my name,there I will be,I Think the bible is talking about the gathering of the body of Christ.the church,I don't believe God is talking about settling conflicts but fellowship.Bless you

Michael Karpf

commented on Nov 18, 2013

Your point is easier to get to know the pastor (and for him to know you) in a smaller church, although I took the initiative in getting to know the pastor from my former church of 5000. Sometimes it just takes initiative. And he said he always appreciates it when someone does take the initiative. Some larger churches protect the pastor so you can't even shake hands with him after the services. And I have seen other pastors of large churches keep people at an arm's distance when they try to get to know him. This is a fact in a large church, although there are many pastors who do want to get to know their people. I have preached in smaller churches and I feel like I'm preaching to my family. Both the small church and the large church have their place in God's plan, but I appreciate you pointing out these plusses of the smaller churches. Too many of my classmates from seminary feel they are a failure because they are pastoring smaller churches. Problem is they are comparing themselves to others, and that success is measured by being faithful to what God has given you, not what He has given to someone else. We are not in competition with anyone else when we serve God with the ministry He has entrusted to us.

Stephen Sheane

commented on Nov 19, 2013

I think a big church with good small groups addresses all your concerns. In a church of 100 you will have no more or less friendships then you would in a church of 10,000. I would argue that evangelism is much harder in a small church where everyone knows each other and is family because visitors feel like outsiders. Family connections are usually more a hindrance than a help. It is much easier to join a group when you don't stick out because you are not family. Again, in a church of 100 everyone is not going to be friends with the pastor, nor should they be. That is why you have small groups lead by caring leaders who look after a dozen or so people. If you are simply talking about accessibility, I am lead pastor of a church of over 1000 and I still greet everyone at the door before and after the services.

Mark Hado

commented on Nov 26, 2013

Small Group Ministries is highly effective for every church, small or big. Small Group Ministries solves the differences; whether big or small there are always the elements of 1.Prayer 2. Bible Studies 3. Sweet Fellowship.

Chris Surber

commented on Nov 28, 2013

Thanks for all the comments. Indeed, there is value in churches of all sizes, my point here is to encourage small churches, not to belittle, pardon the pun, larger ones. The point is simple; our churches exist for God's glory.

Dean Hunter

commented on Nov 20, 2018

A great article about the small church value and also giving the large church credit for it's unique place in American Christian history. I may be off base but the vast majority of Christian churches in the US are composed of a membership of 200 or less. I cannot remember the %s but the large church is composed of those churches over the 200 membership are only about 10% or so. It does however behove us who make up the Christian churhes to always keep the evangelistic zeal and the discipleship of the believer at a high level. The church in England has an attendance of only 2% on a regular basis. Some growth Annalists believe that American Christianity is about 20 years behind of this pace in regualar attendance. If someone has a different numbers please respond.

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