I grew up in a small church in Smithdale, Miss. The congregation that made up Spring Hill Free Will Baptist was so small, in fact, that even on a good Sunday, there were never more than 100 people in attendance.
If I tried, I probably could name every one of them but not here because what really got me thinking about church is the flap over comments the Rev. Andy Stanley made in a sermon a few Sundays ago.
“When I hear adults say, ‘Well I don’t like a big church, I like about 200, I want to be able to know everybody.’ “I say, ‘You are so stinking selfish,’” Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Community Church, was quoted as saying.
“You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids (or) anybody else’s kids.’ … If you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough middle schoolers and high schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult.
“Get over it. Find yourself a big old church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people and grow up and love the local church. Instead … you drag your kids to a church they hate, and then they grow up and hate the local church. They go to college, and you pray that there will be a church in the college town that they connect with. Guess what? All those churches are big.”
Stanley has since apologized, but I’m wondering why anyone found his comments offensive in the first place.
I grew up in the church he described, and my only reaction was, well, oops. The Rev. Stanley’s tongue got a little ahead of him. We’ve all been there, regretted something we said the moment it slipped from our lips. I doubt he meant it for evil.
Here’s what I know for sure. People go to church for all sorts of reasons, but I can’t think of one good reason why the size should matter or if it should matter at all.
After all, it isn’t the size of a church that makes the difference in the life of a child, it’s biblical teachings that open the heart and mind to God. And isn’t that what we want?
You could argue, I suppose, that that teaching can only be imparted through youth ministries as Stanley suggests, but that just isn’t true.
There were no youth ministries to speak of in my little old church. I don’t even recall adult ministries beyond the choir loft and Sunday school.
And yet that’s exactly where I fell in love with God, his word and his Church.
Even when I left home to attend college, I found my way to church on Sunday morning, and when I left Mississippi and then North Carolina, California and Texas, I found my way to his house, my place of understanding.
And though it wasn’t until I was almost 30 when I realized I could actually have a relationship with the Lord, that moment would not have come had my mother not introduced me to that small congregation of my youth.
Looking back, I find that incredibly loving. Not selfish.
In my mom’s small way, she passed on her faith to me, and I have since passed it to my daughters, who grew up in much larger congregations with a slew of ministries, including youth ministries.
I’m sure if you asked which they’d prefer, they’d pick the larger congregation with all its ministries because that’s all they’ve ever known.
But what I hope drew them and holds them even now is the love of God and the sweet communion of the Holy Spirit.
If you can find that at church, large or small, that’s all that matters.
That’s the thing that transforms lives and leads us out of the darkness and into his marvelous light.