5 Spiritual Strengths of a Smaller Church

Smaller can be much better.

Smaller can be much better.

For the past couple months, I have been filling the pulpit in much smaller churches.  I spent August and September in a church that averaged about 45 and most of November and December in a church which averaged 25.  I think we topped out at 37 one Sunday morning.

Since I didn’t grow up in a smaller church (my home church had about 200) and in nearly 15 years of church ministry I haven’t served at a church with less than 100 in attendance, this was a new experience for me.

I have come to recognize several major strengths for churches that are smaller in size.  Just ask any hobbit, being smaller has its benefits.

1.  Limited resources means everyone participates.  When you have no full-time paid staff, no secretarial support, no maintenance budget, no internet access, no projection screens, and a 25 year old copy machine that really is a converted home printer, EVERYONE has to pitch in.  There are very few observers in the smaller church, which is a good thing.  If you are in the family, you have to do your chores just like everyone else.  I see this as a huge Ephesians 4:12, “equip the saints for the work of ministry” strength.

2.  Simplicity speaks louder than activity.  Since there are limited resources and even fewer people, the church has to be very wise about what they choose to do.  You have to be thoughtful about what is absolutely necessary and what is elective.  When your church budget is less than $500 per week, you can’t give to every organization or participate in every ministry opportunity.   So the result is a simpler, more selective approach to ministry, which is radically refreshing.  In this case, less is better.

3.  People pray for one another…really pray.  Since the congregation is small, the relational networks are very close.  People truly pray for one another, by name, in worship services and in their prayer closets because they know one another personally.  And usually, they have known each other for years which makes the bonds even tighter.  As a pastor and preacher, I am spiritually fueled and empowered when I know that I have been prayed for by name multiple times throughout the week by the people I serve.

4.  Evangelism is very personal, not programmatic.  When someone comes to Christ in a smaller church, there is a direct link to another person who led them to Jesus.  There are not programs specifically designed to visit the lost, witness on the streets, or to go soul-winning like in other churches.  When a smaller church sees someone come to Christ and baptized, there is great rejoicing because a family member, a child, a neighbor, a co-worker has come to Jesus and the person who led them is sitting right there.  Evangelism is cohesive and organic, not scheduled on a calendar.  This also helps discipleship flow much more naturally and consistently.

5.  Lastly, leadership is truly appreciated.  Because of the smaller venue, leadership (whether pastoral or lay-led) is highly valued.  People know that you are sacrificing time, energy, and “bigger and better things” to keep this little place alive.  And for that sacrifice, the people are verbally and publicly thankful.  I have been on larger church staffs where leadership was constantly being second-guessed, gossiped about, and barely recognized for their efforts.  This is just not the case in the smaller church.

Starting in January, I am beginning an interim pastorate of a church with about 350 in attendance.  I am excited about the opportunity to serve in this great church, but will miss the simplicity of the smaller environment.

I hope in the future I get a chance to return to a smaller church, even for a short season, because it is so refreshing.  I can’t seem to get over just how nice it is to be simple.

A Chilly Baptism in a Country Church

I have been serving as pulpit supply at a very small church outside of Hodgenville, KY (attendance between 25-30) for the past few weeks.  Yesterday, we had a baptism.

The church does have their own baptistery, which I was thankful for, but they do not have a working hot water heater.  Instead, they attempted to heat the water Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning with an electric hot water heater stick.  I’ve seen this done before, but never trusted the method.  How is sticking a metal rod into a pool of water pumped full of electrical current a good idea?hot water

The baptismal candidate was a lady named Jessica.  She is a 30-something women, wife, mother of three, who had made a decision to follow Jesus this past summer.

As I was getting ready before the service, I stuck my finger into the water to test the temperature and was shocked to find it was freezing cold.

I asked the good ol’ boy Deacon, brother Danny, who had filled and “heated” the tank about the temperature and he said that he was giving it all he had.  He sounded like Mr. Scott from Star Trek making excuses for the USS Enterprise.  The hot water heater was not working and the heat stick wasn’t making a dent.

The verdict was simple: this baptism was going to be very, very, very cold.

When it was our time in the service, I slowly stepped down into the tank.  The cold water nearly took my breath away.  I was supposed to go down into the water while the church members were meeting and greeting.  The water was so cold that I had to cut the fellowship time short, because I was going into hypothermia.

When I got everyone’s attention by rudely shouting, “Hey, let’s wrap it up,” everyone started to get the picture.  I was freezing and the poor baptismal candidate hadn’t even got into the water yet.

When I invited Jessica to join me in the tank, my teeth started chattering together.  I could sense my inner core pulling body heat from my extremities.  You feel this tightening in your chest because your body is preparing to freeze to death.  “Push through it,” “don’t stop” was racing through my mind.

I introduced Jessica and asked her two questions to confirm her public profession of faith and then turned to get ready to baptize her.  I could see the fear in her eyes.  She knew how cold this was going to be.

When she came up from the water, she audibly gasped for air.  You could hear her all through the church.  I can’t imagine how cold she was.  And of course, we Baptist don’t believe in dipping or sprinkling, she had to get all wet, all dunked, all immersed.

As we both rushed out of the baptistery area, I could HEAR her shivering.  You know that sound of repeated quaking and trembling.  And she wasn’t alone.  I was barely able to keep my teeth from crashing in to one another.

As I rushed into the men’s restroom to change, I knew it was over but I was still so cold.  I didn’t get feeling back into my feet until nearly the end of the message.  There might have been fire in my heart while I was preaching, but there were ice-blocks on my feet.

Poor Jessica, even now in dry clothes and back in the pews, she still had wet hair and was shivering the whole message.

At the end of the service, we invited her and her family to come up to the front to present her with a baptismal certificate and a new Bible.  I also invited the church to come and pray for this family as Jessica grows in her new found faith.  I thought the laying on of hands might warm her up a bit.

All in all, I will never forget this chilly baptism in a small country church in the middle of December.  I felt like I had returned to the pioneer days with winter baptisms down in the local creek.

I am sure of one thing – I don’t want to do it again.