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February 25, 2014 posted by Lindsay Ferrier

Small Churches Rock, Too

Small Churches Rock, Too

As Americans, we all know that bigger is better- and in the South, at least, nowhere is this more evident than at church.

Megachurches are where it’s at here in Nashville, with their supersized sanctuaries and celebrity pastors and virtual Internet services, and for many years my family went to one of the biggest, fastest-growing megachurches in town. And there’s certainly a tremendous need for this kind of church. Many people out there- if not most- just want a place where they can go on occasion to get their church on, and a megachurch can provide a semi-anonymous refuge to those who are seeking answers or guidance or just a little divine inspiration to start off their week- no real commitment required.

But my husband and I were craving something deeper. We tried to get more involved at our megachurch– We joined a small group, I participated in women’s Bible studies, we helped out with service projects– and still, we felt disconnected. For me, things came to a head after we got busy and went months without going to a single church service– and not one person from our megachurch even noticed.

While for many, that would be a good thing, we realized that we wanted a more close-knit community. And so with great trepidation, we decided to spend a few weeks visiting some new churches. Of course, every church on our list of possibilities was simply a different megachurch- We didn’t  bother considering small churches because… Well, there’s a reason that they’re small, isn’t there?

And yet.

On the very first morning that we got ourselves dressed and ready to visit a new church on our list, we discovered that we wouldn’t be able to make it to any of the services on time. Dennis wanted to just wait until the next week, but I had gotten myself and the kids all dressed up, dammit, and WE WERE GOING TO CHURCH, come hell or high water. I got online and began looking up service times at every local neighborhood church I could think of, and I found one- a small (!) Presbyterian church just ten minutes away.

Off we went.

We (easily) found a place to park, entered through the church’s double doors, and were instantly swarmed by members, all introducing themselves and re-introducing themselves (this being a neighborhood church, there were a lot of familiar faces) and shaking our hands and basically asking in a very Christian way what the hell we were doing there. It turned out that we were just in time for Sunday School, and we found ourselves swept along in a tide of very jolly and excited people (We have visitors! their eyes gleamed. VISITORS!) into our respective Sunday School classes. Dennis and I were plopped down at a table in a classroom surrounded by about 20 other adults, all of whom were staring at us expectantly. We were mortified.

The lesson began and the first ten minutes were incredibly uncomfortable. Everyone was talking and laughing and there we were, right in the middle of it, feeling like fish in a bowl. But after a bit, surrounded by warmth and friendliness, we both began to relax– and by the end of the class, we were even offering our own opinions. After Sunday School, we met up with the kids, who had found friends of their own and were having a great time, and we went into the sanctuary for church.

The service was different from what we were used to. It was traditional. And small. And none of the men looked like extras in Nashville, and none of the women were swaying and singing with their palms up in the air. My father is Presbyterian and calls them the “Frozen Chosen,” and… well…

Yes.

But as we sat in the pews among about a hundred other people, a little girl stood up and left the sanctuary to go to the bathroom. And no adult went with her. No one needed to. IT WAS THAT SMALL. Everyone knew everyone. And as ridiculous as it sounds, that’s when I knew I was home.

We left that service with the kids begging us to go back the next week– which pretty much sealed the deal. “Why did you like this church so much, Punky?” I asked my nine-year-old daughter.

“Because people actually looked at me and introduced themselves and asked me what my name was,” she said.

Wow.

We have now been members for nearly a year, and membership in a small church means that it has become a major part of our lives. We go on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights and do other church-related things several times a month, and I feel like we’ve discovered the most wonderful secret- Small churches can actually be… awesome. In a nutshell, here’s why:

A small church offers accountability. There have been so many mornings when I would have rather stayed in bed than go to church- but I know that we’ll be missed if we’re not there. If I skip a Sunday or a Wednesday night, I get at least a few texts and e-mails from church friends, asking if everything’s okay. For some, this might be annoying, but I’ve found I really like this kind of positive accountability. Sometimes we all need a gentle push to keep us going in the right direction.

A small church gives you many opportunities to lead. In the megachurches I’ve attended, the music teams have consisted mostly of professional singers and musicians and the church leaders all went to seminary or wrote widely-read Christian blogs or published bestselling Christian books. While there were plenty of ways to get involved, a true leadership role wasn’t realistic for me. In my small church, on the other hand, everyone has to be a leader in some way in order for things to run smoothly, and so I’ve found myself challenged to try things I never done before- like singing in the worship band on Sunday mornings, teaching Sunday School classes, and directing the children’s Christmas pageant. I love that in my small church, stepping up isn’t a big deal– it’s just what you do.

A small church generally has a high concentration of very committed members who will inspire and motivate you to do more. Most members of our church have been there for years- generations, even- and their commitment to their faith and to serving others is so inspiring. These are the kinds of people I want and NEED to be around often, and thanks to my small church, I am.

A small church is less intimidating to children. My kids have flourished in our small church, and it wasn’t until we joined that they were able to articulate that they often felt nervous about going to our megachurch because the composition of their Sunday School classes changed constantly and the services were filled with hundreds of strangers. Now, they know just about every member of their church by name, and the members know them, too. This is very comforting to them and I believe it gives them that sense of extended family that they’d otherwise miss out on since all of our relatives live out of town.

A small church makes it easier for you and your children to form long lasting, meaningful relationships with others. I got to know a lot of people at my megachurch, but I made no close friendships there. Looking back I see that it’s because the groups I was part of were constantly changing. I never had a chance to really get to know anyone over a long period of time. In my small church, on the other hand, I see the same people week after week after week, whether it’s in Sunday School, at Wednesday night supper, or working on a service project together. In just a year of attending church, I’ve already made far deeper friendships with others than I did in 12 years of attending megachurches.

In a small church, the facade of perfection has to be abandoned. I always struggled with the facade of perfection everyone seemed to maintain at the big churches I attended. In a small church, that’s not an issue. Because you see the same people several times a week for years on end and end up covering some very deep, thought provoking subjects when you’re together, you inevitably get to know the good, the bad and the ugly about your fellow members quickly- and to accept everyone, warts and all. This just intensifies the family-like atmosphere within a small church, and I’m loving it.

A small church can offer you diverse relationships with others. One major element each megachurch we attended lacked was seniors. We’ve got plenty in our small church, and I have loved learning from their wisdom and years of experience. They’ve been through most everything I’m going through now, and tend to have great perspective. They’re also very good about continually reminding the younger members about what’s really going to matter when it’s all said and done.

Small churches do big things. My church has around 300 members, but you would be amazed at all of the good they are able to do as a church both in our community and around the world. From providing clean water to villages in Honduras to stocking the food pantry here in Bellevue to delivering wheel chairs to kids in Guatemala to taking care of Christmas for local kids and the elderly, the list of charitable organizations my church’s members donate time and money to each year is mind boggling, honestly. And because our church is small, I get a front row seat to see all of it happen – and I’m motivated to participate in it as well.

I still love our megachurch and all that it does for the community, and it is certainly giving thousands of people in Nashville exactly what they need. I believe it was an important stepping stone for my family to get where we are today– and the best part is that I know the pastor there would say the exact same thing. But I had no idea that a small church could have so much to offer until we literally stumbled into one, and so I wanted to throw this experience out there for you to consider as well.

I don’t write much about Christianity here, because I know that many of you have different beliefs and for most, it is an intensely personal subject. I respect that, I really do. But sometimes, I’ve just got to share what’s on my mind…

and today is one of those days.

Comments

comments

  • quiltbabe8

    Amen and preach it, sister. My first church experience after college was in much the same type of church. There’s no better place to see faith in action in others’ lives, and to be challenged to put a walk with your own talk. So glad *both* you and Dennis and the kids like it.

  • Kimberly

    Love this! I am not from Nashville but have lived here several years and plan on staying. When I set out to find a church for my small family I pretty much stayed at the first church I attended (still not a member though). It is not a megachurch (I don’t personally like them at all) but it is not a small church either. It is an old, traditional church much like the one you describe only much larger. I love most everything about it but two things you mention really resonated with me. First of all nobody really knows me or would miss me if I am not in attendance one Sunday. Of course I haven’t joined a Sunday School class so that has a lot to do with it. The second is my daughter’s experience. Even after a year and a half she still doesn’t seem excited about going to church and doesn’t have any friends there though she does play with the other kids. Some of the kids in her class are there every week but there does seem to be some variability. So when you wrote
    A small church is less intimidating to childrenthat big churches can be intimidating to small children it made me stop and think. I can’t decide if I want to stay there or not and that is one of the big reasons why. I ask myself, “does she need more time” “should we be more vigilant about attending regularly” “will things change as she gets older, especially once she is old enough for the youth group”? I just don’t know but this post helped me think about some of the questions I have been struggling with. I just don’t know what to do….
    Sorry for the rambling!
    Thank you!

    A small church is less intimidating to children
    A small church is less intimidating to children

    • Kimberly

      Hmmm… Don’t know why “A small church is less intimidating to children” appeared twice at the end of my post! Sorry about that. I was trying to past that sentence at one point but I don’t know why it appeared at the bottom! Oh well.

  • Maryanna

    I haven’t gone to church in quite a few years because the large churches here in Nashville made me feel so uncomfortable. They were nothing like the small church I grew up in where we had “greet your neighbor” time as the choir came down or as my niece called it when she was young “half-time”. I’ve been thinking about church a lot lately…this encourages me to find a smaller neighborhood church. Thanks!

  • Julie Presley

    We just moved from Fort Worth to the Austin area and had been on hiatus from a local gathering for a few months because we were Mega-Churched OUT. I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. We’ve been to a very small fellowship here twice, and I think it’s where we’re going to end up, for all of the reasons that you mentioned. We want to be seen, and to see, to bring value and be valued, and we want the same for our kids!

  • Nashvillegirl

    Growing up in a small New England town, my Baptist church was small… When my husband and I moved to Nashville in 1994, we were completely overwhelmed with the mega-churches. We ended up being a part of one, for about 10 years. After that, we switched to a small local one…..I guess we grew tired of being fairly anonymous even after 10 years…

  • Meg McCormick

    So very true. I grew up in a small church and when I go back even today, the same people welcome me back. My church now is bigger, but still, it’s no megachurch. We wear nametags, but we almost don’t even have to. You really have an opportunity to get to know people and be part of a community in a small church… and the more you give, the more you get in return.

  • Leigh

    This is all so very true. We bounced around various Houston churches for a very long time before finding our current home, and I never liked it when we attended large churches–I hated feeling anonymous. And trying to get plugged into a ministry was like trying to get into grad school–there were classes and interviews and that was only if you could get someone to return your phone calls!

    Give me a small church any day. The music may not be perfect, the preacher may not be TV-worthy, but the friendships are real.

  • For a while when I first moved to Atlanta, I was either attending Northpoint (2nd largest church in America right now) or a church with fewer than 100 folks out in Covington that was pastored by a friend from college. I liked the dichotomy. Sadly, my friend moved to FL to pastor another church, so we go to Buckhead (a satellite of Northpoint), and I miss the little one in many ways.

  • As someone who’s getting burned out on megachurch life, I appreciate this perspective. Thanks!

  • eep86

    Its funny, we’ve done the exact opposite and it has been just what we needed. Getting involved in church, especially small church, can cause a whole different set of issues to deal. Both have their pros and cons. Thanks for your perspective. I definitely miss the community of our smallish church.

  • Pete Wilson

    I give this post a hearty AMEN!!!!!

    Now some may find that surprising since I do in fact pastor a mega church (I sometimes still have a hard time admitting that). However, I couldn’t agree more. I have no idea where the world (and Nashville) would be without the incredible collection of unique smaller churches.

    There’s no doubt that mega churches receive an unfair amount of attention and admiration in today’s society. The overwhelming majority of churches around the world are actually quite small in size and our often made up of incredibly faithful men and women who have been serving, loving, and giving for years and years without any fan fair.

    I guess at the end of the day DIFFERENT churches reach DIFFERENT people.

    It’s why we need small churches and big churches…conservative churches and liberal churches…missional churches and attractional churches. We need communities gathering on weekends and weeknights coming together believing that we can make this world a better place by the way we love and serve one another.

    So thankful you and Dennis found a great home.

    • Stephanie

      I’m so glad you responded to Lindsay’s post because I also feel like I’m ready to make a change to a smaller church. I’ve attended CrossPoint Dickson for the past few years. I’m so grateful for this church…my faith has never been stronger & it’s because of CrossPoint. I agree that different churches reach different people. I needed a bigger church to awaken my faith. For the first time in my life, going to church became important.

      It is with heavy heart that I won’t be attending service this Sunday for the first time. However, I’m excited about the next step in my spiritual journey. Im ready.

      Thank you Pastor Pete. We’ve never met, but you’ve touched my heart so many times with your inspiring messages. Im forever thankful.

      *Of coarse, I still plan on watching your messages via Internet 🙂

  • Whitney Jordan

    LOVE this!!! We are getting ready to make a move and I loved hearing all of the benefits of being a part of smaller churches. I think they tend to get overlooked in the age of mega churches. I’ve been a part of a smallish church before and miss the community. Thanks for giving me the push to be open to finding a smaller church where we can really plug our family in and GROW!!

  • Jennifer

    I love this so, so much. I grew up in a small Presbyterian church just like the one you’ve described, and it was formative. I still keep up with some of those people. Many of them came to my wedding, sent us baby gifts when our first child was born. And they shaped who I became. Priceless.

  • Sally

    Couldn’t agree more Lindsay! We attend a small Methodist church in small town Williamson County and love it! We average between 75 and 95 per week and couldn’t be happier or more involved. We need different sizes of congregations because we all need different environments where we can worship and learn. I’m so glad y’all found a church home!

  • TerryReed

    What a great post! I have been in the ministry for over 30 years and have worked exclusively in small churches. Do they have issues and problems? Sure–anytime you get folks together you’l lhave stuff. But the blessings have been tremendous! Thanks for your wonderful article!
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

  • I absolutely agree. Many years ago we tried the local Baptist church with several hundred members and after an entire year of being there consistently, people would ask us if we were new in town. Every Sunday. We’ve now attended a small Presbyterian church for years – raised our kids in it – and these people are family. We generally have 50-75 in service on Sunday mornings. That means everyone pitches in to do the work of the church.

  • Megan

    I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and while you wouldn’t define the church, as a whole, as a “small neighborhood church,” the individual wards are. Every line item that you wrote, I thought yeah, that is such a positive of our church. Glad you’ve found a church that is welcoming and involving for your family!