I’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.