A Small Church: Maybe Not So Bad After All!

Preaching and Worship in the Small Church

Though this book was penned in 1980, it still speaks volumes to our present “church” situation.  William Willimon and Robert Wilson wrote it: Preaching and Worship in the Small Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980).  Here are a few helpful quotes/comments.

Some people “have a gnawing feeling that the small church is somehow second-rate and does not quite measure up to what it ought to be in today’s world.  Other persons…view the small church as an anachronism, kept alive by stubborn people who are holding on to an institution that should be allowed or even encouraged to die.  They see such churches as impediments to the development of the kind of congregation needed today.  In the meantime the small congregation continues to exist, doing what it and the Christian Church have always done, albeit imperfectly: winning adherents, nurturing them in the Christian way of life, gathering them each week for worship and preaching, and in many rural communities, finally burying them in the adjacent cemetery, confident that they have successfully run the race and received the reward of the faithful” (p. 14).

Willimon and Wilson lament the fact that the capitalistic notion that “bigger is better” has made its way into the church’s thinking.  “If the figures are going up, the congregation and its pastor are presumed to be succeeding.  If they are remaining the same or decreasing, something is obviously wrong” (p. 30).  Pastors of small churches are less important than pastor’s of big churches; a pastor has not “arrived” until he’s the senior pastor of a huge church.

They praise the small local church that has simply (i.e. w/o parades, programs, politics and pet issues) preached the word and administered the sacraments.  “Congregational worship is a reliable barometer of the life of the small church.  Here the church family will celebrate its victories, lament its defeats, act out its deepest needs” (p. 45).

“To the pastor who is serving or who may serve a church of small membership, we have a final word.  If you measure the success of your ministry by the size of the crowd, the prestige of the church you serve, or the praise of denominational authorities, you are in deep trouble in the small church.”

“But if you sense that you are called of God – if you know that your ultimate authority and final validation of your ministry come from the faithful service and celebration of the Word and its confrontation by God’s people, your servant hood will continue to be blessed.  You will have the joy of knowing that you are faithfully proclaiming the Word, and that you are an instrument of God’s grace for the people who worship in a church of small membership” (p.123).

This is advice for myself, a pastor of a small church!  The blessings of a pastoring small church quite possibly outweigh the blessings of pastoring a larger church.  May the capitalism be knocked out of my church thinking.

For an earlier post from this book, see “Willmon on the Busy Church.”

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

5 Replies to “A Small Church: Maybe Not So Bad After All!”

  1. Thanks for sharing Shane! Those are great quotes even if they were written almost 30 years ago! Just goes to show that there is nothing new under the sun!


  2. This reminds me of a book I read a few years ago by Glenn Daman, “Shepherding the Small Church.” I’ve since forgotten much of it and perhaps I learned a thing or two in seminary that would nuance the approach, but I remember thinking it was a very cool treatment of the many opportunities available in a small church that get lost in larger ones.


  3. I currently co-pastor the largest Canadian Reformed church (over 650 members). I have a call to a church of 250 members. All of this stuff is on my mind…



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