October 21, 2017

The Value of Small Churches

Don Johnson

Last week we published “The Significance of Small Church Ministry,” where I began to look at the subject of small churches. In that article I was focusing mostly on numbers and their implications. I plan to return to that theme in the future, but today I want to talk about the value of small churches.

I’ve read a number of articles on the small church recently. They tend to take a common theme when it comes to the value of a small church. I’ll summarize from one of them:

  1. That’s “my” church. In small churches, people think in terms of “my church.”
  2. The sense of necessity: In congregations of 75 or fewer, people feel necessary when they’re serving and missed when they’re not around.
  3. Relationships are key. In a small church, it isn’t difficult to meet and get to know others, to learn names and find a basis to form relationships.
  4. Accountability: In a small church, the members know more about each other and their doings, and they expect one another to maintain a Christian testimony.
  5. Pastoral proximity: The pastor lives in the community, is known by all, is easily approached, can be consulted informally for counsel and training.[1]
  6. No doubt you have seen or heard similar sentiments expressed by people who explain why they prefer a small church over a larger one. In my opinion, these features do describe the attraction of the small church for many Christians. I grew up in a small church, I received some of my training in small churches, and I’ve spent my life pastoring a small church. All of these things describe the churches I’ve been involved with.

In my mind, these values are associated most closely with a favorite metaphor of the apostle Paul concerning the church: the “body” metaphor:

Romans 12:5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.

1 Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

Ephesians 1:22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

Ephesians 4:4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

The idea of the church as a body is repeated numerous other times in the New Testament. Probably the most comprehensive description is that provided in Ephesians 4 where Paul expounds on the purpose of ministry in the body:

Ephesians 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

“Fitly joined and compacted…” that is one of my favorite descriptions of how the members of the local church are joined together, complementing and upholding one another in the Christian life. They are all to be involved in the ministry, led by God-given pastors and teachers, to be involved in the great work of making disciples. That’s how the ideas of “this is my church,” “necessity,” “relationships,” and “accountability” will be implemented. It isn’t just “iron sharpening iron” but real connections, joint and sinew, cartilage and bone, compacted together, working together for the greater good of the body, through which God’s glory is displayed and God’s will is fulfilled.

The “body” metaphor can aptly describe a larger church as well, but in some ways it is harder to visualize (and perhaps even harder to put into practice. The connections are more distant. My only experience with a large church (over two thousand in attendance each week) was one where the pastoral staff labored hard to build those connections among the people that the Bible describes. But it wasn’t quite the same as the small church. The tendency for a “consumer” mentality was much more prevalent in that setting. That is, members could take as much “church” as they wanted, they could stay anonymous, uninvolved, but get their “religious feeling” by attending the services (or maybe just one service) each week. That is not to say all members of our church were like that, but it was much easier to float along in a detached sort of way.

Regardless of church size, however, both large and small churches need to work at the “body” metaphor. The spirit of love between brethren must be cultivated. Friendships must be encouraged, interdependencies developed. The amazing truths of Ephesians, where Paul rejoices in the one body God formed in Christ between Jews and Gentiles is realized in local churches when people of many varied backgrounds and social strata are genuinely involved in one another’s lives, actively working, worshipping, and praying together in the house of the Lord.


Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada (a very small church!).

  1. This list is taken from “6 Tips from Small Church for Ministries of Any Size,” with some paraphrasing. Our link should not imply complete agreement with the article or the site from which it is derived. []


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