- September 04, 2017
- Sage Blalock
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of going to see my good friend John preach at the church he is now pastoring. As my friends and I pulled up, we saw that it had the classic “churchy-church” look to it (concrete staircase leading up to the steepled building, two large white pillars in front of the door). After snapping a picture of the “Pastor: John McCord” sign, the three of us walked inside.
It was small. Really small. There was only enough room in the sanctuary for about fifty to sixty people. The congregation looked the part of a small, Southern congregation (exclusively white, mostly older people, etc.). None of us had ever met any of them before. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
My reservations were immediately washed away. We were welcomed with open arms and greeted with “John has told us so much about you” by a few of them. I felt so comfortable. It was like they had known me for years.
I’ve been going to bigger churches since I graduated high school (Redeemer Community Church in Johnson City and Reynolda in Winston-Salem). There’s a certain energy that you experience when you go to a large gathering of people who share your theological viewpoints. For me, it’s a powerful feeling of belonging that overwhelms you when you are surrounded by like-minded individuals worshipping the same God, irrespective of age, race, etc. Most importantly for my wife and I, both of these churches were able to give my wife and I opportunities to build community and find fellowship which have strengthened our faith immensely.
But larger churches sometimes make it easy for someone like me to walk in, worship for an hour, and walk out without talking to anyone. That was impossible at John’s church. There was no crowd to fade into.
When I walked in, I was immediately reminded of the church I grew up in. It was a tiny Southern Baptist church in Sevierville, TN. There is one thing in particular I took away from my days back there: small gatherings are the lifeblood of the Church.
It was so clear to me walking into John’s church. The intimacy of a small group or small congregation is refreshing and challenging at the same time. It’s refreshing in that you are exposed to a collection of people that are seeking Christ in their own lives and looking for ways to serve him daily as you are. It’s challenging because, although it’s still possible, it is much more difficult to pretend like your life is perfect every Sunday when you are forced into accountability with a tight-knit community.
The mega-church model has been successful all over the world, particularly in the United States. With churches like Mars Hill in Seattle, WA (just imagine it at its most successful) we learned that mega-churches can pool or accrue the resources to do some amazing things (see Acts 29 Ministries). But I think we as Christians need to look back to the small church model for the future of Christianity. It offers a level of personal involvement and personal accountability to a community of believers that mega-churches may not be able to. If it worked for the first Christians, I think it will work for us.