“What life have you if you have not life together?
There is no life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of God.”
–T.S. Elliot, “Choruses from ‘The Rock”
In beginning a series on the unique characteristics of smaller churches and how to navigate them I began with a post on why I love smaller churches. As we begin this journey together it’s helpful to remember that regardless of size, churches are and are called to be community. Community exists from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation. From creation in the garden where Adam and Eve are both created and live in community, to the Exodus and the people of God who emerge into God’s covenant community, all the way through Jesus’ relationship with his disciples, the church as the body of Christ, to the ending of Revelation where God will dwell with them as their God; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them (Rev. 21:3). David Ray makes an excellent point concerning this, “The beginning and end of creation is community, and this community is not just our community but also God’s community and our mutual community.”
Community is not a system contrived from human intellect but from a loving God who created people to be together. We need relationships and all that comes from them—encouragement, counsel, correction, conversation.
Perhaps you are asking, “What on earth does this have to do with smaller churches?” If humans are created for community and we crave and need what community has to offer, it would follow that a requirement for this is that the people making up the community must first know each other but also care for each other. Can this type of community take place in medium and large congregations? Of course, but it takes more intentionality to do so.
David Ray notes, “the smaller the community, the more intimately the members can and should know one another, and the more deeply they can care about and for one another.” Even Ray notes the importance on being intentional concerning the cultivation of community. Just because it’s supposed to happen does not always mean that it does.
The desire to be known, cared for, and affirmed is natural. We all want to be loved, we want people to care about us, we want to know that we matter. There is no better place to meet these common human needs than in the context of a smaller community. Middle sized and larger congregations commonly and often offer these through classes and fellowship/life/cell groups. For smaller congregations that is often what you inherently are—a small group. It’s important to utilize this. By being hospitable, open, and welcoming you have the ability to not only meet the spiritual needs of people who are searching, but also an innate need in the desires to be loved and cared about.
Congregations of all size have unique offerings and are all needed, but it’s important to remember that the value is not in the size, but rather in being a faithful witness in the context where you are.