What I Learned By Growing Up In a Small Church

Church-700x465I’ve served on the staff of three churches in my career as a minister. Each one is what I would consider a large church: multiple staff, multiple services, etc.

But my formative years were spent in a much different environment. I grew up in a small church. I think our attendance peaked at about 200. Maybe 250 on Easter.

We only ever had one minister.

Well…one at a time.

What I mean is, my family was part of this church from the time I was in 1st grade until I graduated high school and I can remember at least five ministers. Do the math. That’s a new minister about every other year!

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this church was either very hard on ministers or we were just very bad at choosing someone who would stick around.

Dorothy and June were the pianist and organist respectively, and they could never seem to agree on a tempo. I considered their music a success if they ended at the same time. Don’t misunderstand me, I loved these women immensely. I believe the time I spent at Dorothy’s home around her piano with my best friends had as much to do with my spiritual formation as any single thing I can think of.

I learned a lot at this small church.

Here, in no particular order, are just a few of the things I learned…

Books of the Bible in order. (Along with their divisions.)

That sounds from the back row are always heard by your dad, regardless of where he sits.

That you’re not invisible to the preacher, regardless of where you sit.

How to sing.

All the words to:

Spring Up, O Well
Walkin’ on the Heaven Road
(Guys: “Praise God, glory, Hallelujah!”)
Climb, Climb Up Sunshine Mountain
(I never understood that song)

We Are One In the Spirit
I’m Really Livin’
(along with all the motions)

That it’s impossible to laugh at inappropriate times without being noticed. (This one took a while.)

How to have real relationships with people of other generations.

That preachers are people, too.

That every adult was allowed to discipline me.

The joy of pot luck dinners. (Also: whose casseroles to eat and whose to avoid.)

The finer points of excelling at “Sword Drill.”

I’m sure there’s more.

I wouldn’t trade my years at this small church for anything. Apart from my family, I credit the people there with giving me a spiritual foundation that has endured.


Was this your experience? What can you add? If you grew up in a small church, use the comment section to share what you learned there.



6 thoughts on “What I Learned By Growing Up In a Small Church”

  1. I, too, learned some of those same things. (Some of the songs above from you)!

    I learned that Ms. Dolly’s (Durham) quiet chair was a place you didn’t want to be.

    Belly Ha Ha is a really fun game.

    A wedding reception could be just cake, punch, and. nuts and mints in the church fellowship hall and be just as nice as any 5 star reception center.

    Reggie Thomas and the Rosvit Twins were the definition of Revival.

    I also learned a lot about investing in the lives of youth from Lloyd and Kathie Hamilton.

  2. Your “family” was much bigger than you thought. Even without the internet, people invested in your life. Hugs were a staple. If you missed a Sunday – someone noticed. If you missed two – someone called. Even the least experienced singers could get a chance to make a joyful noise. Someone had a pocketful of mints.

      1. And how many of us have been blessed because you were given that opportunity?!

        One biggie that keeps running through my mind is how we learned the value of life at all stages. Celebrating births and even funerals. Working in the nursery as young kids ourselves. Accepting and loving that odd “aunt” or “uncle” because they were a part of the family.

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