The Sin of Small Churches

by Mike Thomas

It is not uncommon for people to measure a church's success solely by the numbers it has in attendance. One of the first things I am asked when people learn I am a preacher is how big the church is where I attend. They will then use this as a benchmark for whether or not I am a successful preacher or if the church is a vibrant congregation. I guess I do the same thing when asking about others. For one reason or another, we are led to believe that all we need to know about a church is found in its numbers. This perception leads some Christians to ask, "Have we failed because we cannot get more people to join our effort? Are we doing something wrong when the numbers are low?" Many are convinced that churches will not remain small if they are truly dedicated to the Lord.

The church at Sardis had a reputation as a growing and active church, but from God's perspective they were dead spiritually (Revelation 3:1). Perhaps their pews were filled to capacity and everybody who was anybody went there; with other churches in the area measuring their efforts by what Sardis did. But Sardis was not the ideal church from God's point of view. When it came to serving God, Sardis had a lot to learn from Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) and Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) in demonstrating faith and zeal. This does not mean that every large church has compromised with sin to get to that size (Acts 11:21). Nor does it mean that fewer numbers guarantees faithful, dedicated members. Some churches are few in number because they will not commit to a spiritual atmosphere that encourages love and dedication to God; forcing others to look elsewhere out of self-preservation. Some are overflowing with people despite the teaching and leadership. As long as a church is dedicated to the Lord's will, they should not feel like a failure when the numbers are not booming as in other churches. Sometimes the most dedicated disciples can find only a few to join them in serving God properly, as Noah discovered in preparing for the flood (I Peter 3:20).

A church with few numbers can still have a very positive, uplifting, and encouraging atmosphere if it is willing. One of the finest churches I know of has attendance in the 20's to 30's every week. The world looks at numbers like that and says it's time to close the doors and go elsewhere to worship, but don't tell these brethren that. They are genuinely committed to worshiping God in spirit and truth - with no thought whatsoever of self-pity and disappointment. Their time in worship is deliberate and unhurried. Their Singing is plentiful and with purpose. Their preaching (the kind they demand from visiting speakers) is straight out of the Bible. Any time they have together is time to let each other know how much they genuinely appreciate one another. They even keep the building up-to-date and clean. It's hard to believe a church like that will stay small for long, but then again that's measuring success in ways God does not.

In any setting and in all things may the attitude always be "not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord" (Romans 12:11). There is always reason to rejoice since Jesus promises that "where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).