We Are Small Enough


No one tells you while you are in seminary that you might serve a very small church. A micro-church even, a church where you don’t have to have someone count every week for attendance—you can remember who was there and who was not. On a good day there are a little less than 20 people, and everyone comes every week. Maybe they don’t tell you, or maybe you just can’t hear, in preaching class that preaching to the same 20 people every week is so much harder than preaching to a couple hundred.

There is no hiding behind the pulpit, or in your office, behind the title “pastor,” when everyone in your church really knows you, watches you and your husband parent your children, because there is no back of the sanctuary to hide their wiggling bodies in.

The sanctuary is small enough that everyone can see everyone. We are all in this thing together, whether we like it or not. Small church is like family that way. You get who you get. You live life together with people you didn’t hand pick. You aren’t sorted into groups by phase of life or if you have the same interests. Your whole church is a small group. There is no avoiding one another.

It is hard sometimes, to preach to people who know me, to preach to people who know I know them. It is tricky to go through a passage that calls you out to people who knew before you did that you struggle with a particular sin. It is vulnerable to admit to those people that you have received their grace in this area even before you knew it was needed.

We are a little gritty and very real at this little church I was not prepared to lead. We know who can sing and who cannot (even though we all sing anyway.) We just shout out our prayer requests and sometimes talk over each other on accident, and try to keep up with the kiddo who loves the Lord’s Prayer so much he always ends up leading and going faster than most of the adults are used to. I often forget to ask someone to read the scripture and end up putting the teenage boys on the spot. Sometimes my kids and their cousins fight about who gets to pass around the offering plate, as I am praying over it. We pass it around anyway.

Yes, it is gritty at a little church where there is no hiding anything from anyone, but every once in a while the glory breaks through. We are small enough to remember each other’s prayer requests. We are small enough that when God answers a prayer for one of us, God answers a prayer for all of us. We have all been praying.

No one tells you that when you preach every week to the choir (metaphorically speaking, of course—we don’t have enough people for a choir) you can actually hear their tune change, their voice get stronger, their pitch become a little more in tune. You can hear them practicing their faith. And also they change you. You, the preacher, learns to call yourself out, to more or less preach to yourself every week and admit it. You learn to treasure the moments when your congregation sees what God is doing in you. Is it humbling? Absolutely.

It is also glorious.

There isn’t much flash in our simple leading of hymns with an acoustic guitar out of the hymnal published in 1985. There are no key changes or fancy lights and fog. Just us, singing things we believe. There are no impressive graphics, though I sometimes manage to get new banners painted. I hope the hot-glue seams hold out till next year. But there is beautiful natural light that streams through the sanctuary windows, the ones bought by those who showed up faithfully generations before us, passed the plate around, attended to the prayer requests. And there we are, vulnerable and honest, chipping away at this life, and hoping this week there is more glory than grit.