Smaller Churches Please God Too, So Be Encouraged
- Summary: Small churches far outnumber megachurches. The pastors and members of those small congregations can wrongly develop an “inferiority complex” if they fail to realize God’s great love for the small church and its treasured place in His heart. Be encouraged. Church membership numbers are not the indicator of God's heart for the churches.
Luke 12:32 Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.
- •• “Little flock” — an excellent expression to describe the thousands of dedicated small churches throughout the United States (and the world). Jesus loved his own “little flock” of disciples, and God the Father was pleased to bless them.
- • Researcher George Barna found in 2003 that 60% of American Protestant churches were small churches, having weekend attendance of 100 or fewer persons.
• By contrast, Hartford Seminary’s 2005 study reported only 1,210 Protestant churches in the entire USA with weekly attendance over 2,000 persons.
• What these and similar studies reveal is that the majority of congregations in America are what we might call “small churches”. About a decade ago one study concluded that the single most common attendance figure among American churches was 35 on Sunday.
- •• By far the most attention and publicity are given to the relatively few “megachurches”, with their large buildings, multiple programs, and thousands in attendance. But statistically, the fact remains that most congregations are in the “small” category (defined by some researchers as having less than 100 in attendance — often well under 100). To these smaller churches we will pay tribute today, for God is well pleased with thousands of them across our nation.
•• Jesus told His small group of disciples: “Little flock, your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”
- • God the Father takes great pleasure in the multitude of little flocks gathering in small church congregations, home fellowships, home bible studies, prayer groups, and the like. I personally have been an on-staff minister in a megachurch and the lead pastor of two smaller churches. I felt the love of God very much in and for the "little flock" as well as for the "big flock."
• One note of caution here: the fact that God sincerely loves our small churches must not make us complacent. Our Great Commission responsibilities still include soul winning efforts and other Scripturally-based attempts to contribute to the expansion of the kingdom of heaven on earth. But while we are involved in that lifelong process, it is an absolute fact that God deeply loves sincere, Christ-honoring churches of all sizes. And that is the heart of this message today — a word of comfort and encouragement to the pastors and members of small churches.
Psalm 115:13 He will bless those who fear the LORD — small and great alike.
- •• “Small and great alike”, if they fear the Lord, will receive His blessings.
•• Acts 10:34-35 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”
- • Believers in big churches are not one bit more or less accepted by God than those in small churches. God loves “small and great alike”.
• Pastors of churches with large membership rolls are no more the objects of God’s blessings than are those dedicated servants pastoring smaller churches of 10, 35, or 75.
• As noted above, I have personally pastored two churches in the 50-150 attendance range. I have also been on the ministry staff of a very large church with 1,400 in attendance. In small church and large church alike I sensed the personal affirmation and blessing of the Lord, with no hint of partiality or favoritism by Him.
• God has promised to “bless...the small and great alike” who fear Him.
Numbers 33:54 Distribute the land by lot, according to your clans. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one.
- •• Don’t misunderstand this verse; God is not biased, not prejudicial. Rather, God is a proportionate distributor — larger distribution to a larger group; smaller distribution to a smaller group. It is proportionate.
- • The church of, say, 1,400 must of necessity have a wide variety of ministries and programs. God’s distribution to them — and their accountability for it — is larger.
• To the smaller group — specifically to the 200,000+ smaller churches in North America — God gives a smaller distribution and also a smaller accountability. The church of 30 may not be called by God to accomplish dozens of ministries, as the megachurch often is. But that same smaller church can equally please God by doing well those fewer things God calls it to do.
• God is equally and thoroughly pleased as each sized group accomplishes what God has distributed to it to do.
- •• I believe that God’s primary distribution to our church [at the time of this writing a smaller church in southern Oregon] is recorded in 1 Corinthians 14:26, KJV — “When ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation.”
- • That is, we are called to excel in the ministries of (1) the word of God, (2) the worship of God, and (3) the gifts of the Holy Spirit. If we do well those few major things that God has “distributed” to us — along with other things as God enables —
- I believe that God will continue to be pleased.
Matthew 7:14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
- •• God has in His Word established requirements, laws, commands, boundaries. He has given us a clear pattern.
- • The boundaries of the road He has laid out for His people are small and narrow. Our ways are not to be the “wide and broad” ways of the world (Matthew 7:13). God is pleased when individuals and churches fulfill His call according to His standards and requirements.
• God is not interested in broadening the boundaries by relaxing biblical standards in order to get more people on the playing field. No!
• I recall in the 1980s when my experienced pastor gave us younger ministers some wise counsel. He exhorted us not to loosen God’s standards to appeal to the masses. Rather, he said, build your churches upon the standards of the Scriptures. That may, he added, lead in some cases to your having smaller churches. But God will be pleased that you are building upon His pattern, rather than pandering to the modern culture. As I have preached in another sermon, the Church must shape the culture, rather than letting our surrounding culture change the Church.
Mark 12:41-43 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.
- •• God evaluates things differently from man’s appraisal!
•• Surely the onlookers thought, “But Lord, surely those rich people who threw in thousands of dollars were the big givers!” Jesus' evaluation came through in His reply [paraphrased]: “No, that poor widow’s two very small copper coins were the big donation.”
•• How could this be?!! The answer is that man looks on the outward appearance; God looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
•• “But Lord, surely those six that we baptized in the lake last summer can’t compare to the nearby megachurch that baptizes dozens each month!” Jesus might reply: “Why not? That is their “distribution”; this is yours. Don’t you remember how highly I valued the widow’s two small coins?” It is always counterproductive for smaller churches to evaluate their ministries by comparison to a nearby megachurch. Pastors of small churches, God is evaluating your ministry by how well and conscientiously you are fulfilling His calling upon your church, not the megachurch.
Luke 19:17 “Well done, my good servant!” his master replied. “Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.”
Luke 16:10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much...”
- •• The good servant was “trustworthy in a very small matter”. That may not seem like a significant thing to some, but it is a very important thing to God.
- • To my fellow pastors I offer this word of encouragement. Small churches may in the world’s view seem like “very little ... a very small matter”. But God sees things completely differently. He is seeing your trustworthiness in the task He has assigned to you. And your faithfulness to that task, no matter what "size", incurs His favor and blessing.
- •• In Luke 19:17 the reward (taking charge over ten cities) was not until the Second Coming of the Lord. Apparently until the very end of his life the servant had simply remained “trustworthy in a very small matter”.
- • Again to pastors of small churches, hear the encouragement of one (myself) who planted and pastored two smaller churches over the years: Though the churches may be small, be faithful in the task, remain trustworthy, and great will be your reward.
• That is Jesus’ call to the saints and the shepherds of God’s “little flocks”, the thousands of small churches around us — Remain trustworthy in what He gives you. Preach the Word; strive to win souls; care diligently for the many or the few that God gives you. And you will hear His “Well done!” in due time.
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©1998, 2008, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.