The Amazing Power of the Small Church in Times of Crisis

Since the genesis of the Christian church in the early 1st century, God has blessed the missional efforts of His people. In the last 2000 years, we have seen small, medium, and large congregations emerge as an expression of mutual care and corporate worship. Functionally, the Church has changed very little since these humble beginnings. Sure, technology and culture have helped to evolve discipleship methods but the basic staples of service, spiritual formation, and proclamation have stayed consistent These evolutions are needed, and should stay steady in anything we do as pastors and leaders. I however think that there have been some misunderstandings and false idols that have been constructed within the Church we have come to love.

The apostle Paul spoke of this mentality in a few of his letters to the relatively new Christian church. In his first letter to the Corinthians, for example, not only was he addressing basic doctrinal issues and Christian behavior, but he also touched on the concept of following leaders merely for their charisma. These teachers were great at their presentation, but the content pertaining to the sovereignty and work of Christ was blatantly false. These are things I have been reflecting on lately.

I have been thinking about what Paul would say about the world we are currently in as a Church. My guess is (taking clues from his writings) he wouldn’t concern himself much with the things we do as a Christian leadership culture. We spend a lot of time reading books, and going to conferences in order to learn from men and women who have built empires…and who no longer call themselves servants but “influencers”. I wonder what our beloved apostle would say about the Kingdom validity of a local congregation merely based on attendance and financial status. If Paul walked into a church and saw a bunch of people all carrying coffee in the same hand, wearing the same kind of scarves, with the same skin color, similar socio-economic backgrounds and a facility that is brand new and immaculate…I wonder what his observations would be. Just a thought… Nothing wrong with a new building, but often aesthetics becomes the focus.

There is something happening in our world currently that begs to be mentioned. In a time where churches have to be flexible and sustainable for the long term due to this pandemic, I actually believe smaller churches are best suited for this task. Small churches are nimbler in times of crisis and are set up better to take on the charge to intimately serve their neighbor. Megachurches are wonderful expressions of worship and programs…but I have felt burdened for the mere financial overhead of daily operations that exist. Especially in a context in which they are not having regular physical services for the purpose of safety. Also, I don’t want to be crass in the way that I say this…but there are churches out there who thrive on the addiction to their programs they have created in the community. I’m sure there is a better way to say that (and I will get reamed for it), but I am not sure how else to express the idea.

One of the largest misconceptions of the smaller church has to do with financial resources. The idea is, a small church can’t possibility be a valid expression of the kingdom of God unless money is pouring in and constant enthusiasm is being created. Pastor David Platt said it best when he observed, “The greatest hindrance to the advancement of the gospel may be our attempt to do the work of God apart from the power of God.” In this address he was saying that we have become really good at piling resources around us so that we are no longer in need of God’s intervention. We can even grow our churches through psychology, marketing, and manufactured excitement. Let’s look at Paul once again and his thought pattern evidenced in scripture. In many of his letters, Paul actually makes a plea to other churches to support the churches of lesser means. He even acknowledges the vitality of their work. This is counter-cultural to our Darwinian view of congregational support. So, let’s just agree that all sizes and financial statuses are valid. My purpose in these statements is not to “bash” or condemn larger churches…only to establish a respect for smaller ones.

Right now, we are seeing an amazing reawakening of the small church like never before. Leaders are coming up with new ideas on how to engage and serve their communities. Sure, many of these congregations don’t have the most polished or professional presentations, but why would that matter? I suppose that would only matter if we were trying to attract people to charisma or prowess. This is unbiblical, and we need to melt down that golden calf.

That’s my two cents.

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos

I Still Have So Much To Learn

i-still-have-so-much-to-learnA disproportionally large amount of people (relative to the size of the community) filed into a little Baptist church in rural Missouri. The average age of this congregation can be described in one word; gray. There were a few children present, but the small town was primarily older folks so I would not have expected to see more young ones in attendance.

We were in town because my wife’s grandmother lived there and we were visiting her for the weekend. Grandma would not have let us leave town without going to church, even if we had great excuses to skip. Plus, she promised us that she was going to make her world-famous chili for lunch so that was incentive enough to humor her.

The church was small and the last time the décor was updated was sometime around the late seventies or early eighties. These were the good ‘ol days when aliens invaded the earth and felt like their main contribution to the world be wood paneling in all homes and public venues.

Every square inch of the building needed an update, and the handheld microphones had those awful bright colored covers on the microphone heads that stood out like a sore thumb. All in all, it was a place that didn’t look inviting according to a young pastor standards, but everyone had a smile on their face so I was going to keep my heart open.

You see, by this time, I already had a bachelor’s degree in ministry and was about to start seminary. I was obviously an expert in all things pertaining to leadership and was already developing a critical eye and ear when visiting churches.

The music began and, as was expected, the song lineup consisted of both songs I had never heard and ones that I remembered from my childhood. The older lady leading the music was not exactly gifted for the part but her passion was obvious. No new contemporary Christian top 40 hits were played, and, at the time, I saw this as a serious flaw.

How would they minister to people without the newest methods, songs, or a fresh look? How can they minister to people who were advanced in age when every book I have read on “church growth” tells me that the younger generation should be their laser focus?  It obviously wasn’t the case here. They seemed to have a routine that many were comfortable with, and everything had a distinct rhythm.

The pastor began to preach, and the content was great but the delivery of the sermon left a little to be desired. He wasn’t even in the middle of a catchy series! This pastor had been with this congregation for many years, and most people had gone to that church for a long time. There was a comfort there that could be felt with the shepherd of this flock.

As I looked around during worship, one thing was apparent. These people were genuinely interested in what was happening in the worship service. They were responding to the sermon, singing the songs loudly, and taking notes to better absorb the message for the day. Every family had a Bible that was nearly destroyed from use, and the children that were there seemed to pay attention to every word. The bulletin recorded evidence that these people participated in missional activities in the community.  Could it be that the books I was reading about ministry distracted me from a deeper truth? Is it possible that I was wrong about what church “should” look like?

Attending that church made me feel a little different about serving in ministry. In an age where so many pastors spend much of their time looking for the next “new thing”, it seemed foreign to encounter a ministry that didn’t try to fix something that wasn’t broken simply to put more butts in the seats. The back of the platform was not painted black, the lights were not dim, there were no laser lights, and there were no fog machines; yet there was something intensely spiritual about this experience. People were lifting the name of Christ, and learning how to love others more. They were simply worshiping.

I have often been intoxicated by worship experiences that were designed to put people into a spiritual trance. Experiences that were defined by scheduled perfection and rehearsed timing. I think God sees through these type of things, and I have realized that a little Baptist church in a place that is not even on the map can be as intensely faithful as the megachurch down the road with much more to offer.

I pray that all Christians will fall in love with God like this small Baptist church. If we do, we will see a genuine revival happen throughout the world.

I still have so much to learn.

Let’s get back to basics.

Love you all.

-Landon DeCrastos