According to Barna Research in their 2016 State of the Church study, of all church attendees, “almost half (46%) attend a church of 100 or fewer members. More than one-third (37%) attend a midsize church of over 100, but not larger than 499. One in 11 (9%) attends a church with between 500 and 999 attenders, and slightly fewer (8%) attend a very large church of 1,000 or more attendees.”
I bring that up because sometimes I think those of us who attend small churches feel like our places of worship are somehow lacking, that they don’t measure up to the megachurches. It’s true that the big churches usually have more money enabling them to offer more programs, flashier services, and larger-than-life productions. But is that what really matters?
I’ve noticed in recent years that my church with only a handful of children seems to offer something these children enjoy. As a matter of fact, two of the children who attend my little church have chosen it over the big church that one or both of their parents attend. The parents or grandparents of these kids told me their kids said, “There’s too many kids at that big church,” and “I love my teacher and friends at this [smaller] church.”
It got me thinking—what is it about small churches that draws people, even children? Here’s what I came up with.
- Community – In today’s world where most people are strangers in their own neighborhoods, community is a beautiful thing. A place to belong and serve alongside other like-minded people provides a sense of purpose, safety, and community.
- Love – Beyond just community, most small church bodies truly love their members. I consider my church family as close as my blood family. Kids feel that. They like being known by name and having people know them well enough to ask about their activities. Some even find “substitute grandparents” when perhaps their own live at a distance or have died.
- Less Overwhelming – The world is a big place. Schools are big places, There’s always plenty of noise and activity wherever one goes. It’s easy to feel swallowed up, especially as a child, in such big places. Small churches offer a setting where kids can get one-on-one attention by someone other than their parents. It’s a quieter environment that can provide a safe haven that soothes them in the chaotic world. There’s a feeling at church that can’t be duplicated in a classroom, workplace, or shopping mall. It’s a place to settle in and enjoy some peace, something that kids are hungry for today.
- Friendships – Sure, kids can make friends at a large church, but with fewer kids to choose from at a small church, the process happens faster. I believe the bonds go deep in small church friendships because it feels more like family. I also think the accountability of friends at a small church is greater because we especially need each other.
- Teacher/Student Ratio – Teachers are more effective in smaller class sizes. They can tailor their lessons to their students and answer more questions they may have. Also, when students aren’t there, teachers can follow up easier with the absentees to see how they’re doing. They’re less likely to fall through the cracks in their spiritual life.
- Service Opportunities – In a small church, kids can serve in a variety of ways and not have so much competition in stepping into open service positions. It’s less intimidating to serve in small churches and the selection process is way less daunting. Quieter children find places of service more easily within smaller churches because there are fewer, if any, auditions, interviews, or similar requirements prior to serving.
These are just a few of the things that make attending a small church such a blessing. I teach the third through seventh grade Sunday school class in my church. On most Sundays, I have exactly two students. We have a wonderful time together and I’m getting to know them in a deeply personal way. I’m invested in their spiritual growth. I love seeing their excitement about memorizing Scripture and learning what the Bible teaches. If I had a class of eight or ten students, it would be more difficult to get to the depth I’ve reached—both spiritually and personally—with these two kids.
More is not always better. Bigger is not superior to smaller. If you’re shopping for a church and feel you need to go to a bigger church for your kids’ sake, you may want to rethink it. Small churches offer a lot that larger churches can’t possibly match.
Do you prefer a large church or a small one? Why? Sound off in the comments.