The Benefits of a Small Church
I. In the second chapter of Acts we have the account of the establishment of the Lord’s church on the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
A. The day began with the 12 apostles being filled with the Holy Spirit, and then preaching to the thousands of people celebrating Pentecost that Jesus of Nazareth, whom they crucified, was resurrected from the dead and is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
1. When the people heard this, they were pierced through the heart with guilt and sorrow over having crucified Jesus Christ.
2. In Acts 2:38-39, Peter finally said to them: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."
B. The account of this amazing day ends with these words:
1. Acts 2:40-47 – And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation." Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
C. Just imagine – three thousand people baptized into Christ in one day!
1. In less than 24 hours, the number of the disciples of Jesus had soared from 120 to three thousand!
2. Try to imagine what it would have been like to assemble with those three thousand new Christians and join together in worshipping Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
3. And what’s even more amazing is that the church in Jerusalem continued to grow every day.
II. Most of us would have trouble trying to imagine what it would be like to be in a worship assembly of three thousand Christians.
A. And yet in our day there is a growing phenomena known as the "mega-church" – churches that boast of attendance of more than 2,000 worshippers at one time.
1. The Prestonwoods church in Plano, Texas, has an auditorium that holds up to 7,000 worshippers at once, and still must hold three worship services every Sunday morning so they can accommodate up to 24,000 worshippers each week.
a. Of course, the Prestonwoods church, offers a lot more than a place to worship.
b. On its 140 acre campus, the Prestonwoods church also offers a complete book store, sports fields for athletic events, an game arcade, and even a food court where members frequently eat, complete with a Starbucks.
2. And the Prestonwoods church isn’t the only one.
a. Another mega-church, located in the affluent suburbs south of Los Angeles, known as The Mariners Church, has begun a 10-year expansion project with a 4,000-seat worship center, an artificial lake, food court, coffee house, and recreational attractions including a rock-climbing wall and jumbo video screens.
b. A Chicago-area congregation, known as Willow Creek Community Church, now draws up to 20,000 worshippers every weekend to its mammoth facility that also features its own bookstore and coffee house, among other services. Its $70 million expansion plan includes a new 7,200-seat auditorium.
3. In the late 1990’s it was estimated that there were approximately 350 mega-churches in the country.
4. As of last year (2005), surveys indicate that number has risen to around 850 churches with over 2,000 in attendance.
B. Surveys indicate that of the 300,000 to 400,000 churches in America, between 5 percent and 10 percent average more than 1,000 members.
1. Studies also indicate that 80 percent of the churches in America have less than 200 member.
1. Obviously size has certain advantages.
2. There are things a larger church can do with its increased resources.
a. Probably the most obvious is that a larger church is in a better position to help financially support gospel preachers who are working with numerous churches across the country and around the world that are too small to support a preacher of their own.
3. But there are also a number of benefits of small churches often lost in larger churches.
C. So… for the remainder of our time, I want us to look at the many BENEFITS of worshipping with a small congregation – and to DEFINE what we mean by a SMALL congregation, let’s say we’re talking about one with 100 members or less.
1. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m saying it’s okay for a congregation to become complacient about growth.
a. There are far too many congregations that have become stagnant and are gradually growing older – one preacher (Bob Owens) often describes these congregations as "graying out."
b. These congregations have failed to grow and attract new members, and as a result, the members are gradually getting older, and slowly dying off, until the church finally reaches the point where the small band of those left simply disband and go to worship at another congregation somewhere, if they go at all.
2. So… while I don’t want us to ever become complacent about growth, I think we need to avoid becoming discouraged BECAUSE we are small – comparatively speaking.
a. Therefore, to help us avoid discouragement, I think it would be good for us to remember that there are a lot of benefits, as well as some obligations, of being a member of a smaller congregation.
b. Let’s begin by looking at the benefits of a small congregation, and then talk about some of the obligations we have toward one another that go along with those benefits.
I. So… what are the benefits of being a member of a smaller congregation – a congregation of 100 people or less?
A. I think we could all agree that one of the most obvious benefits of a small congregation is there is a stronger sense of family.
1. A small church is one where almost everyone knows each another.
a. It much easier to have face-to-face interaction with one another in a smaller group.
b. Even when we don't always remember people’s names, we certainly remember their "face."
c. Because of this, we will more than likely be missed in a smaller congregation than a larger one.
(1) Unless accurate attendance records are kept and follow-up is done on those not attending, it can be weeks before a person, or even an entire family, is missed – if at all.
(2) Therefore, smaller congregation are generally better at encouraging those who may be struggling with their faith than larger congregations – simply because members are more aware of one another’s needs in smaller groups.
2. And so, it’s much easier in a small congregation to truly develop familial relationships.
a. Do you remember a passage we looked at last week from 1st Timothy chapter 5?
b. 1 Timothy 5:1-2 – The apostle Paul told Timothy how he was to treat others in the congregation, whether they were young or old: Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity.
c. This describes family – fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters – and that’s how we need to be thinking of one another.
3. When congregations grow large, it’s very easy to lose that sense of family.
a. That’s why the members of some congregations are always promoting "get-togethers" that cross generational lines – where young and old are encouraged to participate.
b. Others try to encourage small group Bible studies in the homes of various members, and encourage others in the congregation to visit these various groups to become better acquainted with members they may not know well.
4. Therefore, as this church grows, we need to guard against losing that sense of family.
a. In Matthew chapter 12, this is how Jesus saw His disciples – He saw them as family. And it appears there was a closer bond between Jesus and His disciples than there was between Jesus and His actual family.
b. Matthew 12:46-50 – While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You." But He answered and said to the one who told Him, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother."
c. Let’s do all we can to keep a sense of family no matter how large this congregation may become.
B. Another advantage of a smaller congregation is that there are greater opportunities for each of us to grow individually.
1. By that I mean there is a greater chance that we will be needed to fulfill a specific role, or to help in a special work.
2. The roles or functions that need to be filled, and the special work that needs to be done is really not that much different between a small congregation or a large.
a. For example, every congregation needs teachers for Bible classes.
b. Every congregation needs those who serve in public worship – everything from waiting on the Lord’s table to leading in prayer, or leading singing.
c. And every congregation needs someone to preach the Word.
d. But in addition to the most obvious works of service in a local congregation, there are many others as well.
(1) Every congregation needs those to call on the sick or shut-ins.
(2) Every congregation needs those who will greet visitors and make them feel welcomed.
(3) Every congregation needs those who will then follow up on those visitors to encourage them to come back, or to inquire about the possibility of having a Bible study.
(4) Every congregation needs those who volunteer to perform all the other tasks that go along with maintaining a building – from cleaning, to ordering supplies.
(5) And there are perhaps dozens of other jobs we could talk about that are needed in every congregation – large or small.
3. But in smaller congregations the ratio between roles or special work and the number of members is much greater.
a. It’s not uncommon to find some men and women in a smaller congregation wearing many hats – performing a variety of services and performing a number of functions.
4. This means, there is a far greater chance you will be needed to help in some specific way – maybe even several ways.
a. While a large church often rotates duties to try to get as many people involved as possible, smaller congregations require all the members to help in some way almost all the time.
b. In Ephesians chapter 4 the apostle Paul showed the importance of everyone being involved in the work of the local church.
(1) Ephesians 4:11-16 – And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
(2) The only way for the local church to grow, and edify itself in love, is by "the effective working by which every part does it share."
5. And the fact that smaller congregations use its members more often in performing various functions or fulfilling various roles, smaller congregations are great training grounds for members to develop their skills – especially those who would preach and teach the gospel of Christ.
II. However, along with all the benefits of a small congregation, there are also some obligations small congregations have simply because they ARE small.
A. One of these obligations is to constantly nurture that sense of family we talked about earlier.
1. While there are opportunities for mutual edification on a congregational level through worship, Bible classes, and gospel meetings, there is also a need for mutual edification on a more personal level.
2. In the second chapter of Acts, we see this kind of more personal edification among the saints in Jerusalem.
a. Acts 2:46-47 – So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
3. Some time later, as the church in Jerusalem continued growing in numbers, they never lost that sense of family.
a. Acts 4:32 – Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.
4. The home became the center of social gatherings where these newly baptized disciples of Christ met to share meals and enjoyed mutual edification.
a. There was such a sense of oneness that they were not only of one heart and one soul, neither did they think of the things they possessed as being their own.
b. They were willing to share everything they owned.
5. Our homes need to be the same kind of gathering places – where we are of one mind and one soul to the extent that we actually look forward to sharing time together, whether it’s sharing a meal, or sharing times when we sing and pray together.
B. Another obligation of a small congregation is to take advantage of opportunities to involve every member in the work of the local church and to train those wanting to develop their abilities even more.
1. We’ve already pointed out the opportunities small congregations provide those who want to be involved in teaching Bible classes, being involved in the worship, and even having an opportunity to preach.
2. Therefore, a small congregation should take advantage of this zeal to properly train those who want to participate in these ways.
a. This means offering training classes for both men and women who want to be Bible class teachers, offer men’s training classes to help men be better prepared to lead in various aspects of public worship, and even train those who want to learn to be able to be more effective in preaching a sermon.
3. And no one should think that the preacher is getting lazy or neglecting his responsibilities if he encourages men in the congregation to preach a sermon once or twice a month.
a. To be good at doing anything, we need to do it regularly.
b. And so, for someone to be able to step in a preach a sermon occasionally (or even on an emergency basis when the preacher may be sick), means they need to have had some prior practice.
4. In 2 Timothy 2:2, I think this is what the apostle Paul wanted Timothy to do, when he told the young evangelist; And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
a. This would not only include teaching these faithful men the truth of the gospel, but perhaps how to present the truth of the gospel as well.
5. Paul’s comments to Titus, in Titus chapter 2, seems to indicate he expected Titus to teach men and women how to apply the principles of the gospel of Christ, and how they can pass this knowledge on to others.
a. Titus 2:1-8 – But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things — that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.
6. So… there are wonderful opportunities for men and women to develop much needed skills in a smaller congregation.
7. And because of that, smaller congregations should make those opportunities available to anyone who sincerely desires to grow and develop their God-given talents and abilities.
C. And perhaps the greatest obligation of a small congregation is to guard against stagnation.
1. Small congregations are very vulnerable to discouragement – especially when a family or two moves away.
2. And discouragement is the number one cause of stagnation.
a. It happens when a group of people lose hope of ever being able to grow, and just resign themselves to remain small forever.
b. They simply give up all efforts to be evangelistic, feeling no one would want to be a part of a small congregation like this anyway.
c. So… the two main things we need to guard against here is discouragement that leads to stagnation.
3. The Lord expects growth – both spiritual growth and numerical growth.
a. But we need to understand that spiritual growth must come first – without spiritual growth there will never be numerical growth.
b. And I will be so bold as to say congregations that fail to grow numerically, have also stopped growing spiritually.
c. WHY? Because if we are spiritually mature and zealous for the Lord, we will be out doing everything we can to share our faith with others and lead them to Christ.
d. Numerical growth is a natural outcome of spiritual growth.
4. One of perhaps the most misapplied passages concerning growth – or bearing fruit – is found in John chapter 15.
a. Jesus wanted His disciples to bear fruit – but many have defined "fruit" as meaning we are responsible for converting others to Christ. It doesn’t mean that at all.
b. Jesus is talking about growing spiritually – about bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Only then can we be fruitful in other areas, such as leading others to Christ.
(1) We simply can’t sell people on what we have if we don’t have anything to sell.
c. John 15:1-8 – "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples."
d. The KEY to understanding this passage is found in verses 4 and 5: "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing."
(1) Did you hear that? "WITHOUT ME, YOU CAN DO NOTHING!"
(2) Unless we are intimately linked to the Vine (Jesus Christ) by our faith and obedience, and He abides in us, and we in Him, we will accomplish nothing.
5. Therefore, you and I need to work hard on doing everything within our power to grow and mature spiritually – to not only grow in our understanding of spiritual truths, but to grow to be more like Him.
a. We need to become a partaker of His divine nature – to become more Christ-like in our nature.
b. Until we do that, we will never be successful in leading anyone to Christ.
6. Numerical growth will come automatically as we grow and mature spiritually.
a. So, there’s no need to be discouraged at our small size as long as we are actively growing in our faith and devotion to the Lord.
I. It should be fairly easy to see there are many benefits of being a member of a smaller congregation, and with those benefits come obligations and responsibilities.
A. However, there is no way to fully benefit from being associated with a small congregation unless we are a member of that congregation, and a faithful member at that.
1. If you remember the passage from Acts chapter 2 that we read at the beginning of the lesson, you will remember that: "the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:47)
2. And from the verses in Acts chapter 2 that preceded this verse, we learn that these same people were told: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sin…" (Acts 2:38)
3. So… those who were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins were saved, and those who were saved were added by the Lord to the church – the church universal, the body of Christ.
a. Those of us who are members of this congregation are in fellowship with one another because we have all been baptized into Christ for the remission of our sins and been added by the Lord to His church – the body of those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ.
B. Have you done that?
1. Have you been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins?
2. And if you have, are you living your life in such a way that when the Lord comes again to reclaim His own, you will be part of that number?
3. If you must answer "no" to either question, do what you need to do to make yourself right with God this very moment.