According to a study done by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), of the 3.6 million baptized members of that church body, half worship in congregations with an average attendance of 150 or less. And out of the ELCA’s 9.393 congregations, 82 percent have an average worship attendance of 150 or less (Lammi, Kurt, “Would They Notice?” Living Lutheran, p. 33). The conclusion? The denomination is mostly made up of small congregations (p. 33).
I suspect that the data from most other mainline denominations would reveal the same thing. So what should we do with that information? Maybe it is a wake-up call for us to realize that not all churches are going to be the megachurches we perhaps want them to be. And is that so bad?
What are the positive aspects of a small church? We know each other, and we can get to know each other more. We have the opportunity to build stronger relationships with one another, and we have the potential to be more personal in nature in worship, in prayer, in outreach. We are not just a number, a face, a seat in the pew. We are more of a family and when one of us is gone, we notice, and when one of us is struggling, we rally around.
We have a excellent model to work from in the disciples. Jesus did not surround himself with a mega group, but called only a group of 12 to work with him in spreading the Gospel. There is a lot of work that can get done among only a few. And often things do not get as bogged down in structure and order and protocol when there is a smaller number of people in a group.
Like the disciples, we in small churches can be in personal contact with people more and we can work on things that need to get done right away instead of sending a request through a committee every time. Of course, there is a time and place for order, but it does not have to be the requirement in every instance.
Our small churches can be just as vital as our large ones, and our communities would in fact notice if they were gone. So never lose heart, little churches, like a mustard seed, you can make great things happen by the grace of God.