Small Church vs. Large Church

September 11, 2014

Years ago, I worked for a brand new church plant in a growing suburb of Denver, Colorado. We would send first time guests a "thank you" letter. Enclosed in the letter was a self-addressed, stamped postcard with a brief survey. Several people actually sent the cards back, and here was the typical response:

"PROS: The preaching was fine. The music was good. CONS: You're too small."

Now here's the ironic thing - if everyone who told us we were too small actually stayed, we wouldn't have remained small for very long!

The view of Riverwood
As Riverwood emerges as a brand new church plant starting from only a seed of an idea that the gospel can truly change lives, there will be some in our community who stereotype us as a "small" church. For some, they will see this as a bad thing (like the people in Colorado who sent back the postcard surveys). But for others, Riverwood being small will seem like a positive attribute.

Why is this? Well, some people prefer small churches because small churches tend to have a depth of relationship among the attenders that is assumed to be lacking in large churches.

Others, though, might prefer a large church because of the excellence of the programming in all areas of ministry.

Riverwood is neither large nor small
But here is where Riverwood differs. We don't have a goal to be a large church, nor do we have a desire to remain a small church. We simply want to be a Jesus-centered community. If that means God grows our Sunday gatherings dramatically because hearts are being awakened by the gospel - then awesome! But if he has planned for us to remain a small church at this time, then we will faithfully help one another grow spiritually during this season.

Our goal isn't to reach a certain number of attenders or to remain at a certain size. Our goal is to help people follow Jesus. I've previously been on staff at a large church and at a small church. Neither is "better". Whether large or small, the focus should be Jesus.

What this means for Riverwood attenders
If you consider Riverwood your home church and prefer worshipping God in a small church, if suddenly Riverwood starts growing, you might find yourself a bit frustrated. But let me encourage you! Rather than be upset that "your church" is changing, be thrilled that God is changing people!

And if you are frustrated by our current stage because you prefer larger churches, let me encourage you to make the most of this time. Get to know people. Learn about their lives. The day may come where you can't know and love upon a large percentage of those in the church family.

Just like the best parents enjoy every stage their child is at, let me encourage you to be engaged regardless of whatever stage Riverwood is at because chances are, our size will continue to change.

One Last Word
Just so you know - I have told people around town that Riverwood's goal is to be a church for those who have no church home. (We have no interest in "transfer growth".) Currently, 30-40% of people in Waverly attend a church weekly. For argument's sake, let's say that 50% attend church regularly. That leaves 5000 people not part of a church family. If God uses Riverwood to reach just 10% of those, that would still grow us into a church of 500 people!

But I don't want to say our goal is to become a church of 500 people. What if God wants us to be a church of 750? Or what if he wants us to be 200 because He has some amazing plan for us? If the goal is a certain number, we will either become content because we've reached "our" goal, or frustrated because we haven't achieved the numerical standard we set for ourselves.

But when Jesus is our goal, we can celebrate no matter how many people show up at a Sunday gathering or how many connect in a Growth Group or how many signed-up for a FirstServe. Colossians 1:28 tells us that a church's goal should be to proclaim Jesus and help people be transformed into His image. So at Riverwood, we don't have a goal to reach a certain size. Instead, our goal is to invite you to grow spiritually into the likeness of Jesus.

Erin Bird Lead Pastor - Riverwood Church

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Riverwood Church, Waverly Iowa

We are on a mission to help people love like Jesus loved and live like Jesus lived.

It doesn't matter to us if you:

  • are a Wartburg student or a grandparent,
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  • make $100,000/yr. or wonder how you're going to pay rent this month,
  • or fear your past mistakes make you unlovable to God or others.

No matter where you are in your spiritual journey, we want to help you become who God has created you to be.

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