Can we stop making excuses for small churches?

November 7th, 2014

I’m tired of being lulled by the matrix that is religion into an acceptance of the status quo in the church, whatever the denomination. We are reminded again and again that the vast majority of churches in America are classified as “small churches” (fewer than 100 people in attendance) as if being told this fact enough times will help shield me, the pastor, from feelings of ineffectiveness. I can be content that I’m “average” or “normal” just like the majority of my colleagues in ministry.

As long as I’m comparing myself to the church down on the corner or in the next city, that will work. But it doesn’t work when I compare myself to God’s standard for his church.

When I read my Bible I read about a God whose heart breaks for the least, the last, the lost and the lonely. I read about a God who desires that none be lost but that all will be saved. I read about a God who wants his disciples to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. I read about a God who says fantastic things like,

“Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.” (Luke 14:23).

The God we find in Scripture is not content with a small church. And for most of our history since Pentecost God has not had a small church. Just open the book of Acts and watch as God adds thousands each day to the messy, uneducated, Spirit-filled band of disciples who called themselves the ekklesia,or church, meaning those who are called out.

Church, by God’s definition then, is always a group of people growing in both faith and number as they are continually going out into the world to make disciples of Jesus, compelling the world to come in so that God’s house will be full.

It’s really difficult to imagine that Jesus died on a cross so that we could have a place to gather on Sunday mornings without the purpose and intention of seeing people who do not know Jesus join us next Sunday. And then some more yet again the next Sunday. And the next. And… well, you get the idea.

If we as Christians — whether clergy or lay — are doing our job as the church we should never remain a small church because we are always going out as those called out by the God who calls all to himself.

So perhaps here it would be good to define what a “small church” is, at least as I see it. A “small church” is a church that has not seen any growth in the past year. It could be a church of any numerical size but not a single conversion. Not a single baptism. Not a single life changed.

Such a gathering is not a church and we need to stop making excuses for such places. We need to stop encouraging nostalgic sympathies among long-time Christians and instead encourage them to grow up and get out into the world to take part in the mission to which God has called them. The only reason a church should remain “small” is because everyone within a 30 mile radius of your building is already saved. But as long as there are people around us dying and going to hell we need to stop pandering to our own desires of what a church should or shouldn’t be and instead compare ourselves with the moving, holy, unpredictable, messy, flourishing, vital, magnetized Church of Jesus Christ that we read about in the New Testament.

Anything less than this is, in my humble opinion, an offense to the Lord of the Church, the one who died to birth it. So rather than making excuses, let us instead spur one another on to good works. Let us encourage one another to get out into the harvest and get to work bringing it in, for our Lord says it’s plentiful! Let us pray for revival in our communities, that God would raise up leaders and workers who can help us reach the lost and disciple the found. Let us pray that this takes root in each of our own hearts.

Praying with and for you, and all our Sunday places of worship, that we may truly be the church, and therefore, anything but small.

Read Chad's follow-up to this post: Moving from a small mentality to a big, growing mentality

Chad Holtz blogs at UMC Holiness.

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