I love giant churches. I remember when I was a little boy, I would go and visit my grandmother at the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ building during the week. She was the church secretary there and I loved going to play in the building. The auditorium was so beautiful. I remember the curved pews lining the sanctuary, with the balcony hanging overhead.
But there was also a gorgeous chapel, long halls, a huge education wing – this place had it all. I was mostly jealous, because my family went to a small church. My father as the preacher for small churches in and around Wilson County. When I say small, I mean 25-50 members small.
At one location, my mother would take me and my sister to the back corner of the auditorium where they had strung up a curtain so we could have a “classroom” to use. It was these kinds of places that I grew up in, learning about the Bible. So when I went to a giant church building, I could just imagine how much they were able to do there.
My other grandparents went to the Vultee congregation on the other side of town. These two churches served as two of the largest congregations in the city of Nashville. I often thought, “This just isn’t fair.”
The majority of my childhood was spent in the Bethel Church of Christ near Watertown, TN. There were at least a few people my age there. There was another family, the Smith family, who had 4 girls – Jamie, Sonya, Robbie, and Callie. Sonya was my age, and Jamie was my sister’s age – so at least we had that. We even had a classroom, and my mom didn’t have to teach us, because Mrs. Fannie Bell Warren was my teacher, and Ms. Dorothy Jean Smith taught my sister.
What I’ve learned over the past few years is that while large churches can do great things, so can small churches. The memories I have of Bethel are forever etched in my mind.
Jesse Russell would lead our songs. We had about 15 songs we sang, over and over again. He wouldn’t have them prepared ahead of time, he would just get up and pick one by flipping through his book. His wife Fredda, would clip her fingernail every Sunday.
John Clemmons was an elder. He was bald as a cue ball. He always had his hat with him. His wife, Christine, was a very outgoing and friendly lady.
Willard Warren was my teacher’s husband. They sat right behind us. I spent many a Sunday morning sitting with them while my dad would preach.
There was the resident business man, who actually lived in a farm behind the church building. Dan Smith always seemed like a local politician. His wife, Vondie, was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
We may not have had large programs, and we may not have supported mission works all over the world. On Sunday, most of the times my father had to preach, and lead a prayer, and possibly serve Communion as well. But we were a family, which is one of the many parts of what a church is all about.
Last weekend, I preached for the Fernvale Church of Christ. Its a small church, just left of the hollow log by the creekbank just past the old Wilson place. Its a church family that doesn’t have a full time preacher. They like to bring in students, but didn’t have one for this semester that could come out full time. I was contacted by one of their elders to see if I could come fill in a bit before we moved on to our new work in Florida.
I walked in, and was smacked with my memories of childhood. Small lobby, two small wings on the side of the building for overflow. No microphone needed. And some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Today, I’ll preach for them again. We’ll drive 45 minutes to get there, and it will be worth every minute.
Let’s not get caught up in how many people are coming to our church. Let’s not get caught up in the numbers. Let’s not be people who ask “How many people go to your church?” – because honestly – that just doesn’t matter. What matters is that the church exists at all, and that is affecting lives for the Kingdom of God. Large churches are great – they can do so much for the Kingdom. But so can the small churches.
To those of you who preach and teach at the “small” churches – may God bless you today with and overwhelming sense of His presence. May God be praised. Amen.
Thanks for the blog, enjoyed reading it and i wanted to let you know that I am the preacher at Bethel. Some of the folks that you mentioned are still there.
Thank you Lane – beautifully written and full of meaning.