21 May, 2024

Big Little Churches

by | 14 May, 2024 | 8 comments

By Daniel Schantz 

A church with only 12 members is barely a church, but almost every weekend I preach in small Missouri churches whose attendances range from 12 to 112. 

When people hear that I am preaching at such small churches they often shake their heads and say, “That’s a shame. Why don’t they just close the doors and go to a bigger church that has more to offer them?” 

If I’m in a snarky mood I might reply, “Well, why don’t we just close down all the little convenience stores in the country and send everyone to Walmart?” But they don’t like that idea. They like their little convenience stores, because, well, they are convenient, among other things. 

Instead of thinking of these churches as dying, why not think of them as just getting started and in need of some help? After all, Jesus started with just 12 disciples, and I hear that turned out rather well. 

I would like to suggest that some of you who are attending a sprawling, 10-acre city church take one Sunday a month and visit one of these small churches. Believe it or not, your charming megaminister will somehow survive without you. These little churches are everywhere, in the city and in the country. Your presence would be encouraging. Sometimes all a church needs is some hope to keep going.  

But don’t go there as some kind of “metropolitan Messiah.” Go there to learn.  

Small, rural churches are populated with some very brave and resilient people who have had to adjust to declining populations and lost job opportunities. They have real problems, such as farmers committing suicide and anti-social media invading their children’s lives. They have fought drought, floods, hail, and a blizzard of environmental regulations. They have lost body parts in machinery and had children who drowned in the pond. They have lost husbands or wives to pesticide cancer. They struggle to make tractor payments and vet bills. Yet, they chose to stay where they were planted instead of fleeing to the city, and for that they deserve respect, not pity. 

Some of these churches are “cut flower” churches, because they have no children to carry on the leadership in the church. Others do have children, and they are the finest children you will ever meet. In my judgment, the best thing that agriculture has ever produced is not grain and cattle, but strong children who have great values and who love hard work. The best college students I ever had in my college classes were from small towns and farms. 

So, if you have children, bring them with you when you visit one of these churches. Nothing can brighten a church auditorium like happy children, and your kids will learn something that they might never learn in a high-powered youth program. 

When Jesus was here among us, he lived and worked in some very small places, such as Bethlehem and Nazareth, Bethel and Caesarea. He preached in Jerusalem, which had a population of about 14,000, the same as the town of Moberly, Missouri, where I live.  

Jesus lived and worked exclusively in Palestine, a country so small that he could walk the length and breadth of it. You could put several Holy Lands inside the state of Missouri. Not once did Jesus go to the population centers, such as Rome and Alexandria, but somehow the mustard seeds he planted in Palestine grew into a worldwide crop of Christians. 

I am proud of the students of Central Christian College of the Bible, where I taught for 43 years. Many of them now preach at small-town and country churches, instead of chasing only the most prestigious churches in the country. They often must hold down a second job in order to feed their families, but they will be honored for that in The Day of Justice. 

Jesus promised that wherever two or three were gathered together, he would be there with them. A church of two or three is about as small as you can get, but wherever Jesus is, that’s big enough for me. 

Daniel Schantz is a professor emeritus of Central Christian College of the Bible, Moberly, Mo. 

8 Comments

  1. Bob Stacy

    Wow! Amen! I have preached in small towns and medium-sized towns! I have served in Christian works in cities and small towns. And l have found to be true what Dan Schantz has found. If I were forced to move to any town I’ve preached in or to any city I’ve ministered in, I believe I’d choose a smaller town. Why? I think of two farming communities I’ve served in and in those communities I’ve found people shackled by less of the big city busy schedules and thus, they’ve had more time for the church. They’ve had more commitment to the church. Their young people were not as involved in as many school and community activities. I am not enamored by designations of large, medium and small. A “small” church in number may be larger in percentage of people involved than a large church. I’ve often wondered how God designates churches. By numbers? I think not. By faithfulness and commitment and sacrifice? I think so.

    Thanks, Dan, for this article! We all may “stand around” on judgment day and exclaim to one another, “I never heard of that church” or “Did you ever hear of that preacher?”

  2. Derrell Brame

    Daniel, thank you so much for your article. I minister to a small church/more city than country . . . Metro east St. Louis. We average about 60. We could use help with music, children, and youth. We try to attract families, but need the help. I’ve often thought about some of the workers in the wings in the larger churches, who could join in with us and make a difference. There are many lost people who need Jesus. Your article was an encouragement to me . . . thank you!

  3. Bruce Webster

    The last few decades and especially the most recent one, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot about the churches where Christianity is growing very rapidly. Ying Kai and his wife Grace, both Chinese Americans, led a movement in an unreached people group in China. It began with 30 farmers. Ten years there were a documented 1.7 million baptized believers. The average church in the movement had less than a dozen baptized believers. This is typical of these rapidly growing movements. I sometimes say their megachurches are 50 people.

    Our American culture we think the biggest churches are the most successful. However, as the size and number of megachurches has grown, the number of people in church on a normal weekend has declined.

    If we want to see Christianity turn around and grow in this country, we will need to learn from the leaders of these movements.

  4. John Plunkett

    Daniel Schantz is right on in this article. In Browning, IL, population 150, I preach to an average attendance of 16 for two years now. We are not dying but getting started. We have gone over our goal for the Pentecost offering for Ignite Church Planting. The offering this year is to start micro churches in Chicago. When you support evangelism, evangelism occurs where you are. In my two-year tenure we have had 5 baptisms. We are not a mega church by any standards but we are a micro church with a mega heart for winning the lost.

  5. Loren C Roberts

    Amen and amen.

  6. Jason Carnley

    This is so well written and gives me hope. From my years in Illinois I saw some small churches close down but others were thriving and growing. If we have the mentality that it’s not worth the effort we are going to lose a lot of opportunities in these rural areas. One minister who focused on small church evangelism reminded me that Philip was sent to the middle of nowhere to reach one guy.

  7. WESLEY T PADDOCK

    I have spent 25 years in the ministry in Kansas in a small rural congregation. Now that I am retired from college teaching, they continue to encourage me to continue to preach. They are great people with a large servant’s heart. 30% of our church income goes to missions. We are one of the larger supporters of Manhattan Christian College. Small churches can possess significant power because of their faithfulness to the Word and each other.

  8. Ron Fraser

    Yesterday my wife and I attended the 100th Birthday Party of J. R. (Jim) Chapman. Jim began preaching when he was 19 in Oregon, shortly before coming to southern Alberta, Canada. For the last 75 years he has faithfully focused on half a dozen smaller churches, encouraging, evangelizing, teaching, and pastoring. He has also had time to lend significant support and vitality to our RM parachurch efforts through Christian camping, and Alberta Bible College. He has given hundreds of thousands to these ministries through shrewd and very profitable investments. And in the process has led the charge in these smaller churches to be mission-minded. He currently pastors the Taber Church of Christ, with Dave Sarsons, a congregation which on a good Sunday has 45. At his party yesterday, he said “I’m looking forward to my 101st Birthday, because I’ve heard that not many people died between 100 and 101 years!” In Canada we don’t have a single RM church over 1,000 members. But the faithful leadership of faithful communities of faith, regardless of size, is truly life giving!

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