Can we stop making excuses for small churches?

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” (less 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 easily become content that I’m “average” or “normal” just like the majority of churches in America.

And so long as I’m comparing myself to the church down 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 to me and you 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 do well 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 yet 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 so 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 take 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.


5 thoughts on “Can we stop making excuses for small churches?

  1. I’m not sure I agree.

    Wouldn’t it be more helpful if we thought of churches in terms of maintaining and developing relationships that spur one another on in their following of Christ? What you’ve done is say that all of who we are is evangelical in nature, and that narrows us down a little bit. Conversion is nice, but maintaining a community that authentically convicts one another might keep conversion down while still being faithful.

    All in all, you’re still judging people who may find themselves ill equipped for the task of building and maintaining new relationships. While you may be right, it feels like the wrong way to express it, and your model fails to recognize that sin in our culture can people from coming in the doors or keeping up with relationships.

    • “Wouldn’t it be more helpful if we thought of churches in terms of maintaining and developing relationships that spur one another on in their following of Christ?”

      I’m of the opinion that if we are doing that – following Christ – we will be (or become) evangelistic, as Jesus was, and commands of his followers.

      Conversion is more than “nice” but essential. Jesus said we must be born again, and without conversion a Christ-honoring community is not possible. I agree sin prevent people from entering and prevents people from inviting, but thanks be to God, we serve a God who has a cure for sin.

      • I still believe it is possible for a church to be completely faithful and not grow numerically. I also reject the notion that making disciples can be reduced to numerical growth. Before you say you agree, notice that you make conversion out to be the only measure of faithfulness. Where it is absent, the church isnt the church. I reject that notion.

      • I didn’t make conversion out to be the *only* measure of faithfulness, but it is vital and essential. Without it we are still dead in our sins.

        Being *completely faithful,* according to God’s standards, will result in growth. We witnessed that in Acts and throughout the history of the church. We ought to at the very least expect to grow as we are loving God and loving our neighbors well.

      • I spent some time thinking through what I would mean if I talk about conversion and growth. I wanted to see if I could sort out my problem with what you are saying.

        Conversion as a term is sullied in my mind and associated with rank supposed evangelists that call people to join their numbers threatening hell and fire and brimstone. While I recognize the “success” of some of these “evangelists” they fall short of what I see as the call of making disciples.

        I agree that we should see growth in the church, but that growth might not for a season be numerical growth from people coming in from the outside, which is the other way I am prone to interpret conversion.

        Now conversion, if I can wrap my head around it without going into my biases and as it seems you are putting it, means moving people from outside the relationship with God and neighbor and bringing them into relationship with God and one another. That would be a good measure, but even then not the only one. I would consider moving people from a lukewarm relationship with God and neighbor to a deeper more abundant relationship with God and neighbor would qualify as growth. Perhaps under such a definition, it would even qualify as conversion.

        I am also uncertain if being completely faithful will result in growth (measured in numbers of new members). It does in part but not all of Acts, but in the Old Testament faithfulness can end up with you being chased all over the country side by someone who wants to kill you.

        What if we are in a season of faithfulness that requires perseverance and deeper training of those that are already within our number?

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