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“SMALL CONGREGATIONS”

 

Neal Pollard

I grew up in Georgia mostly attending congregations that weren’t numerically large.  I never attended a church of more than 200 until I went to college, but even then the two churches I preached for during that time were smaller than that. I have preached full-time for three congregations, and two of them were smaller than 200. Yet, when I speak of small congregations, I am talking about those less than 50.  They typically have a hard time supporting a preacher full-time, almost never have elders or much spiritual leadership at all, and would often consider themselves to be “struggling” in some way.  While they have their share of weaknesses and reasons for being small—from internal strife to a lack of evangelistic zeal—they are special and valuable to God and often striving to get Christ into their communities.  Out here in the west, I’ve attended several of them in Colorado, Utah, Kansas, Idaho, Wyoming, New Mexico, and California.  But it is not a phenomenon unique to regions outside the Bible belt.  My father works to help and strengthen churches in the Carolinas in that state, as he did for so many years in Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, and even Tennessee.  My brother and I both began full-time preaching in small churches in Alabama.  Rural America is full of small churches, but we are fully aware that these exist on every continent and many nations.  Some countries have fewer than 50 Christians in them, and there are even nations where the Lord’s church does not exist.

Having recently been with a small congregation, I was reminded of how big their faith, sense of family, and desire to make an impact for the Lord such churches can be.  I visited with a man who was one of about 5 members in a church about 50 miles from Twin Falls, Idaho.  They support a preacher in Kenya, mass media via Gospel Broadcasting Network (GBN), and buy Bibles to distribute in several nations. Their building is paid for and they are so desirous of doing whatever they can to reach their tiny community but also the global community.  Would you really call them a “small congregation”?

I have been exposed to more than one church where hundreds or more attended that rarely grow except through membership transfer, whose activities are heavily weighted inwardly—focused on entertaining, pleasing, and spending on themselves, and whose leaders are visionless and whose pulpits are powerless.  Couldn’t we call these “small congregations” in a way much more tragic?

I don’t want to ever be a part of a small congregation.  Even if the group with whom I work and worship are a few dozen or a handful, I pray I will do what I can to help them dream, plan, and do big things and not be small.  Our Lord is big and great.  The church is His body and as such should never be small!

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Blessed Assurance

from a different Ukraine trip (2003)

Neal Pollard

In the spring of 2002, I went with Keith Kasarjian, who is currently the assistant extension director of our Bear Valley Extension Program, to Kramatorsk and Slavyanagorsk, Ukraine.  One of the first things I recall doing the day after arriving there was meeting to fellowship with the Christians from that general area of Ukraine.  Several other foreigners in addition to Keith and me had travelled over for the first graduation of the first Bear Valley foreign extension in Kramatorsk, but they had travelled up to Slavyanagorsk to see the Christians there.  That gave the small room of the house where that church met an international if an over-filled feel.  It was decided that we sing some hymns.  The first hymn sung, as I recall, was “Blessed Assurance.”  Most present sang the song in Russian.  The Americans scattered around the room sang in English.  As Italian Sylvia Gaddio and French Canadian Sylvain Arsenaux were in the room, they each sang in their native tongue, too.  At one point, I stopped singing to listen to the voices blending in multiple languages.  I remember being completely overwhelmed and overcome at the thought of what tied us all together.  People native to Ukraine, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Canada, Italy, and the United States (we also had a Romanian and Chinese who came over for the graduation who might have been in the room, too) were hampered in their ability to interact by their language limitations, but the love, unity, and spirit of fellowship created by our common bond in Christ seemed to eclipse whatever our differences may have been.  Never before that moment had I felt the power of the oneness Jesus causes.

In our congregations, we have different interests, incomes, spiritual backgrounds, education levels, temperaments, personalities, ethnicities, maturity levels, and dozens of similar variables that make us unique, even dissimilar.  But, do we emphasize often enough how our service, obedience, and allegiance to the Lord is meant to overcome all these?  The Philippian congregation needed the reminder that practical unity was necessary and not just desirable (see Philippians 2:1-4).  We need to frequently emphasize the beautiful nature of unity in Christ (cf. Psalm 133).  It’s as touching to think about how the Lord makes all of us in our local congregation one as to think about times like that special moment I recall from a tiny house in a tiny town across the world!  That’s the power of Jesus, His blood, and His church.  “O what a foretaste of glory divine!”