Finding a church home is never easy. In the tenth chapter of Hebrews, the Bible instructs Christians on the importance of gathering together for encouragement and to "spur one another on toward love and good deeds (NIV)." But if regular fellowship with like-believers is so important, how can Chrisitians choose the church that is right for them? More specifically, what size congregation is best?
Here, we consider the greatest benefits of small and large churches so you can decide for yourself.
Small Congregation Advantages:
Intimacy: I grew up in a relatively small church with about 200 members, and I really appreciated the fact that my family had strong relationships with all of the other families that attended there. Elders in the church knew all of the kids by name and we formed lifelong friendships. In contrast, at a larger church it's highly likely that you may be sitting next to someone you've never met on a weekly basis, and for new members it may be especially difficult to forge relationships with others who already have a close circle of friends.
Individual Attention: At some point, even the most active church member and faithful Bible study goer will need an extra level of care, attention or counseling from the pastor or another senior leader. This is relatively easy to facilitate in small churches, simply because of the fact that there just aren't as many people to make requests. At a large - or mega - church, however, individuals may be members of a church for many years without ever having even met the pastor face-to-face. And, certainly, scheduling a personal meeting may be difficult or impossible.
Freedom to Worship: If you've ever attended a Sunday service at a large church and felt as though everything was scheduled down to the second, you were probably right. Ministries catering to thousands of members have lots of moving parts and that means everything has to work like clockwork. For people who enjoy a more organic worship experience, small is definitely the way to go: If the Spirit of the Lord moves and service lasts four hours instead of two, so be it.
Large Congregation Advantages:
Flexibility: For some people who work weekends or have erratic schedules that prevent committing to Sunday morning church, large congregations are the way to go. There are typically multiple services on Sunday, with one early, one closer to midday and one in the evening. Some churches even have Friday or Saturday night services, and mid-week Bible study is more of a full worship experience than at smaller churches.
Resources: Lots of members means lots of services to accomodate the varying needs of individuals. Have small kids that can't sit still during service? Send them to children's church. No transportation? Catch a ride on the church's bus or shuttle service. Looking for a date? Try the singles ministry. This is where large congregations shine.
Music: This is BREATHEcast, after all, so of course we have to discuss music. Music is definitely not the only way to worship God or enter into His presence, but praise and worship through singing and the playing of instruments is a critical component of most church services. In churches with smaller congregations, leaders may ask for volunteers to fill the choir stand or take a seat at the organ, but in large churches, the music ministy is treated with as much care and attention as the pastoral staff. Praise and worship leaders are likely professionals with performance exprience, and they have the gifts and talents to set the atmosphere for the entire service.
Ultimately, each person has to decide which factors are most important as they decide on a new church - and that may change over time. I grew up in a small church that I enjoyed, but as a mom of three young children, I now rely on the resources that my larger church provides.
Also, please be advised that these observations are in no way scientific, nor are they comlpetely applicable 100% of the time. There are always exceptions to every rule, and we don't want to dissuade you from attending any church that you choose. In the end, what's most important is finding a good, Bible-based, teaching environment that encourages and supports you in living for God on a daily basis.