Thursday, January 15, 2009

Small churches

Most Seventh Day Baptist churches [my denomination] qualify as small churches - some of them, like mine, very small indeed - and being part of a small church can be discouraging. Mark Tubbs at Discerning Reader writes an encouraging review of Why Join a Small Church?, by John Benton, which argues that membership in a small church can stretch you in good ways.
.... Benton isn’t content just to explain why it’s okay to join a small church, but explicitly encourages the reader to do so. He goes so far as to say that small churches are particularly special in God’s eyes: “In encouraging you to join a small church I am inviting you to get on board God’s agenda.” Benton extrapolates from Scripture to show how God delights in fulfilling his purposes through small things. Don’t be fooled: small things can lead to big things. He claims that smaller churches potentially
  • Enjoy closer fellowship
  • Will stretch you more as a Christian
  • Offer you a life’s work of real significance
  • Offer you the chance to confound the world
Benton’s piece de resistance is this circular argument: Unless solid Christians seek out, populate, and serve “little and very local” churches, the light of the gospel may go out in those areas. However, small churches can hold out the offer of the gospel in an authentic, small-scale way that bigger churches cannot: “Everyone needs to become a Christian and local churches are the God-ordained means of holding out the Word of life to the community.” For all the megachurches that successfully attract scores of unbelievers and nominal Christians to their services and functions, there is a disturbing lack of discipleship and retention occurring (see Willow Creek’s recent study, published under the title Reveal). Benton claims that these problems do not occur as often in the smaller church because everyone lives in one another’s back pocket. There is no place to hide, so sanctification occurs on a regular basis, in a very upfront and personal way.

I hasten to add the following: Benton in no way advocates that one ought to join any old small church willy-nilly. Three major criteria should inform the decision:
  • Is the love of Christ shown in the friendliness of the people?
  • Is the teaching biblical?
  • Is the church seeking to reach out with the gospel?
Discerning Reader: Review of Why Join a Small Church? by John Benton


  1. I was recently at the Grand Rapids, MI church (following the Young Adult year-end retreat), which is about as small as the Madison church here. It was one of the best services I've been to in some time (all semester, at least).

    I think that growing up in the Seventh Day Baptist denomination has given me a real love of small churches. There are challenges, yes, but the blessings are equally as real.

    In fact, I have begun to wonder whether Milton is too big for me. A humorous thought, since even that church is not large compared to many others outside the SDB denomination.

    I was talking with a friend recently about the role of pastors, and other reasons for going to church such as fellowship. I think there can be little doubt that small churches claim fellowship as a strong point.

    What do you think about pastors, though? Do they play a larger role as church size increases and people know each other less and less, or does a small and intimate group setting allow more attention for a pastor's words? Is there something inherent in the megachurch that allows pastors like Rick Warren to become celebrities?

  2. Pastors in large churches have to specialize. Pastors in small churches can't really. So, in a large church, a pastor may be able to concentrate on an area of ministry in which he is gifted. Small churches have to adapt to the individual - a really good pastor may not be as good at preaching, for instance.


Comments are moderated. I will gladly approve any comment that responds directly and politely to what has been posted.