When I began church shopping in my early 20s, my list was simple: I wanted a church that served my needs. I looked for a church that had a robust young adult ministry, a few friendly faces, worship that fit my personal preferences and some cute, single guys. My criteria were very me-centered. Throughout my 20s I attended two large non-denominational churches with close to a thousand people in attendance at each. I moved from one church to the other mainly because I was following my friends, and I ended up dating several guys I met through various small groups. While I knew that no church was perfect, I managed to find a church that checked all of my boxes.
When I got married, my husband was interning at a small, urban church plant boasting maybe a hundred people every Sunday. The church meets on the first floor of an event space downtown, and it relies heavily on seminary interns to help it run. Everyone’s assigned some sort of volunteer job that rotates every few weeks, like nursery duty, setup and teardown, children’s church, etc.
I started attending shortly before we were engaged, and I was skeptical. As my husband was interning, I didn’t really have a choice, and it was so different from how I previously defined church. Over the past two years I’ve come to really love our church. I can see the benefits of a small congregation even though it didn’t check any of the boxes on my list, but to get to this place I had to be willing to view church as more than a way to meet my needs.
The Huge Benefits of a Small Church
With a church this size, we really are a family. Engagements, new babies, job promotions and graduations are celebrated with the entire congregation. Health problems, unemployment, financial struggles and relationship issues are met with support and practical help. I was no longer looking for boyfriend potential when I started attending, but if I had discounted the church due to the small selection of single men, I would have missed the amazing support network of people who have championed us in our marriage.
Because our church is small, our small groups are based solely on geographic location, not life stage. Our group has singles, young marrieds, middle-aged parents in the throes of child-rearing and empty nesters. As I’ve transitioned from engaged to newlywed to new mom, I have appreciated the various perspectives and wisdom represented there. I loved being part of young adult or singles small groups when I was in that season, but sometimes it felt like the blind were leading the blind. I value the diversity of our group and the ways I’m challenged by people in different stages. It reminds me that, at our core, we are more than our relationship status.
While attending a church where you sit with friends is a great way to build accountability, that can also be found in a small church. Almost immediately church felt like a place where everybody knew our name. It was impossible to be anonymous; even our pastor notices when someone is absent for a month or two. There’s also accountability from our small group and church members because with only one service, we see everyone each week.
Being part of a small church has reminded me that church is less about the style of worship or the number of programs that meet my needs. Rather, church is ultimately about the state of my heart when I worship. It’s about seeking out ways to serve this group of believers. Ideally, finding a church you love is about perfecting the give-and-take, and for me that was found within the cramped walls of our small church home.