What Do I Mean by Small Churches?

There was a question about what I meant in terms of a small church from a commenter the other day, I thought I’d address here.

In response, when I think of a “small church” I think of a place that you are able to know and be known by everyone in the church, not that you necessarily do know everyone but that you can.

I think it should have a family-type feel, when I am at church I should feel like I am in a familiar and welcoming place.  People need to have their stories known, this doesn’t only make us feel safe with others but it helps us feel welcomed and safe with ourselves.

For me, churches that have shaped their church buildings around theatres and shopping mall designs feel sterile and unwelcoming. Churches that have thousands of people in them make it hard to feel like your known by anyone.

I want to be a part of a church that forces me to know people – where you can’t help but be noticed. Where you have opportunities to get to know the pastor or pastors, serve and become a part of the church in various ways.  Paul knew his churches intimately well, knew their concerns, their gifts, and their sins – our churches need to be known and open in this way.

I have found that these “small churches” I am talking about tend to be under 300 people – I’ve never attended a church that had more than 200 and many emerging churches are under 100 people.

We tend to think big is better, but what I’ve found with big is, it’s easy to get lost, and hide in the numbers. “Less is more,” as Relient K says, and I think we do well to be a part of communities where we are more than a face or a number.  Where churches are hoarding people, and where we realize our power is not in our numbers but in our faith in the Spirit of the Lord.
Finally, I think that a focus of small churches should be to create a community within a community. Often times churches of all sizes, but especially super-large ones pull people from across communities and become “commuter churches.??? I am personally not very fond of the commuter church style for a number of reasons. Churches should be focused on being local and focused on serving the people within a feasable radius and a given neighborhood – some small churches and big churches do this part well some don’t.

But like I said, it’s a confession and a preference on my end even though it’s a preference with meaningul support behind it.

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Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

7 thoughts on “What Do I Mean by Small Churches?”

  1. –Oh and I need to make it clear that I am not against large churches, I know there are many good things a lot of them do. I really mean this.

    This post is in response to me giving things I like about a church – just wanted to clarify that.

  2. Thank you for responding to my question.
    To me, one of the most significant points you make is–
    “I want to be a part of a church that forces me to know people – where you can’t help but be noticed.”

    The heart of our faith is to know and be known — in our relationship with God and with others. The “right size” for a church is where that happens.

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