Dr. Jamie Jenkins: A Church's Worth Is Not Measured by Its Size

The Smallest Church in America. That's what the sign proclaimed as I approached exit 67 off I-95 near Savannah. We were on our way to the Georgia Pastor's School at Epworth-by-the-sea on St. Simon's Island and that is when I saw it.

The Memory Park Christ Chapel in South Newport, Georgia was "built in 1950. It measures 10 ft. x 15 ft., has space for 13 people, a shrimpy pulpit, pews and a stained glass window with just enough space for Jesus. Grocer Agnes Harper built the church, and wrote the deed in the name of Jesus Christ. It is open 24/7 to all denominations."

Most of the tiny church buildings such as the one described above are built to "give you a special place to pause for a few minutes of worship." That is the stated purpose of 6 ft. x 7 ft. white, wooden chapel located near the "Geographical Center of the 48 States" Monument in Lebanon, Kansas. Although the claim of being the "smallest church in America" might be questionable, these little "houses of worship" provide interesting rest spots for tourists. You can read about this and other churches that make similar claims at www.roadsideamerica.com.

I grew up in a small membership church in Mobile, Alabama. Over the years my church experience has been in congregations that have varied from very small numbers of persons to thousands of members. Each one of these local churches has a special personality and place in its community. All of them have attempted to share the Gospel and demonstrate the love of Christ.

The first Sunday at my first appointment there were 15 people present for worship--including my wife, our eight-month old son, and me. The worshipping congregation at Roopville United Methodist Church was small but with God's grace it grew during our time there.

I have been to many churches since that June day in 1972 and many of them have been proud to have that "small church" feeling. Whether the church membership numbers many or few, it is important for everyone to have the sense of "belonging." No matter what the size of the congregation, it is possible to be known and to feel that your presence and participation is important.

Every church I know would identify itself as a "warm and loving" congregation. And most are. But everyone does not automatically feel valued regardless of the size of the congregation. Churches with a lot of members have to work hard to be sure that every individual is known, cared for, and afforded a place of service. I have experienced various methods that help folks feel at home and want to become a part of churches where it is impossible for everyone to know your name. And I have been a part of small membership churches where people were intentional about their relationships and offering everyone a genuine welcome.

It is alright to proudly claim to be the smallest church in America if your intention is to be a tourist attraction but that should not be the goal if you want to be a church that offers the Good News of Jesus Christ to people every day.

Every church does not have to be "big." Small membership churches are as important as mega-churches. The worth of a local church is not measured by the number of people in the pews but by its faithfulness to Christ and the Gospel. It is not bad to be "small" and it is not necessarily good to be "big." However, it is unacceptable to be content until every person knows that God loves them and that Jesus gave His life for them. I believe if every congregation makes that their mission, every church can grow.

Jamie Jenkins

[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," August 2, 2010. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]


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