In 1990, my husband and I made a move across the country. With a young child, and still basically newly married, we were eager to find a good church and get involved.
We tried a few, but nothing really felt like it was the best place. A few of the churches we tried were larger and had excellent programs, and we did begin leaning toward one, but then, when I was looking in the yellow pages, I saw listing for a church, Wheatland Bible Church. I called the number and found out that they met in a school. We went the following Sunday, and from the moment we walked in the door, we were warmly welcomed, and never looked back.
I don't think there were more than 35 or 40 people there. There were no "programs," and for mid-week services, we met in the pastor's home. His wife would take the younger kids downstairs and do activities with them. There were a some adolescent girls who took a great liking to our young daughter, and she was allowed to go downstairs with them and they would fuss over her and play with her. On one occasion, the young people were learning the song, "Take the Name of Jesus With You," and I have memories of our daughter, not even two years old, rocking in our living room chair, saying over and over again, "precious name, oh how sweet," having been in on the teaching sessions enough to learn that little piece of the song.
The preaching was excellent. It was expositional, thorough, and reached right into our hearts. It was preaching that was lived out before us in the lives of this humble pastor and his wife. They cared deeply about the people. The pastor had been saved through the Navigators, and he would meet regularly with my husband for bible memory work and mentoring. They were down-to-earth people who would do anything for you.
This small church was a praying church, as we gathered regularly to pray, whether it was mid-week or at other times with assigned prayer partners. We knew about each others' lives, and we had a lot of fellowship together. One Saturday, I hosted a church Scrabble tournament in our home, and that was a lot of fun. We would have church picnics in local parks, and on Saturday nights, the school allowed us to use the gym, and we played volleyball.
Nothing was elaborate. Nothing was high-tech. Another lady and I shared piano duties, and we had one song leader. We didn't have a sound system. Usually, we met in the school staff room, but when the floors were being cleaned, we often had to meet in the hallway. The pastor's wife was glad to man the nursery (my daughter was the only infant at the time), but when I had another child, it meant my husband and I taking turns with a baby who cried a lot.
We served each other. When I had surgery, I had meals brought to me, despite the small numbers. There was no "official" care group for this. Someone just organized it so that for the first week I was home, I had a dinner every night. When my husband and I moved into our first home, we had a myriad of people willing to help us move.
It was the best church experience we have ever known. We all loved each other, and we were truly a family. When our pastor and his wife had to move back to the U.S. for family reasons, we were all devastated. It was three of the best years we ever had. Unfortunately, when we hired a new pastor, there were some issues that ultimately resulted in people leaving, which meant the church was too small to carry on. Some of us moved to the same church, and others went to a different one. The church we attended after was a warm, friendly place, and we enjoyed our time there before moving back here to Ontario, but it was never like it was at our little church.
How do you measure church success? Is it the numbers? Is it the quality of the music? Is it the number of programs? After this little church, when we came back to Ontario, we began attending a church with bigger numbers, with a staffed nursery, with programs. And while we love our church, we still look back on our time in our little church as one of the best times. It was a church of people who wanted to be disciples of Christ, and who wanted to live that out. We loved each other, served each other, prayed for each other, shared with each other. As a young couple, we were privy to watch some well-established couples live out their faith. They mentored us by their lives. The standard set by the preaching of the Word meant we would never be satisfied with anything less than solid teaching.
In comparison to some churches today who host coffee shops in the foyers, book stores, and technical expertise, our church may have seemed very basic. But it was all we needed. What else do we need to grow in Christ but a group of people with shared beliefs in the gospel, willing to meet for worship, willing to invest in each other's lives? That can all happen without the bells and whistles of a big church, but a big church without people of that kind will quickly prove itself.
The important thing is to align yourself with a church and serve. Size isn't the most important thing. What matters is what's coming from the pulpit and the commitment of the people who congregate. And we can each make a difference wherever we are, to be a sincere disciple of Christ, no matter how big our church is.