Book Review: Why Join A Small Church?

I recently read a brief monograph by John Benton, Why Join A Small Church? (Scotland: Christian Focus, 2008).  41px2youdrl_sl500_aa240_11Benton is pastor of Chertsey Street Baptist Church in Guildford, England.  It’s a short (61 pages) and easy read, but also thought-provoking.

 

The author articulates a number of reasons why a person should consider joining a small church.  Benton never defines the parameters of a small church (e.g. 50 or fewer, 100 or fewer) but this is generally self-evident and therefore unnecessary.  As a pastor of a new and growing, but still small, church I appreciated his thoughts. 

 

The sum of his argument is presented in the form of a question: “How can we drive past one church to go to another?” (p. 8).  The point is a gentle and necessary admonition: stop thinking about what a ministry can offer you but think about how you can assist the ministry.  He candidly states: “To join a big and thriving church is not always wrong, but it is frequently the easy option.  To join a little needy congregation is not a decision to be taken lightly.  It will probably require far more guts, love, resilience, and spiritual exertion.  But how the devil would love to herd Christians into a few big city centre churches, getting them to travel miles from their communities, and leaving vast tracts of our country with no viable witness for the gospel” (p. 8).

 

He outlines seven reasons to take up the challenge of joining a small church (pp. 12-16).

  1. The big churches can spare you
  2. The small churches need you
  3. Small churches give opportunities to serve
  4. Small churches enjoy closer fellowship
  5. Smaller churches will stretch you more as a Christian
  6. Small churches offer you a life’s work of real significance
  7. Small churches offer you the chance to confound the world

His presentation is balanced as he enumerates seven problems one may face if they join a small church (pp. 18-22).

  1. Bad facilities
  2. Nothing for the children
  3. Discouragement
  4. Resentment and disappointment
  5. Lack of spiritual life
  6. Idiosyncrasies
  7. Unimpressive worship

Another pillar of his argument is that every community needs a gospel witness because every community contains lost people (p. 35).  Thus, to lose the gospel witness of a small church may mean losing any gospel witness in that community, which is tragic. 

 

It is easy to forget that this is written from the perspective of a pastor who ministers in England.  The similarities between the pros and cons of joining a small church in England and the US are striking.  There is, however, always the danger of generalizations such as his statement on p. 12 when he comments: “The big churches don’t really need you.  There are plenty of others.”  While I understand his point and there is some truth in it, every church needs “servant-hearted” people.

 

Benton gives a detailed and balanced presentation of joining a small church.  While you may not glean anything new, you will get a pretty accurate understanding of what it means to join a small church.  I would recommend this book, especially for pastors of smaller congregations.  It will allow us to interact better with prospective members.  There is one more unintended benefit that may grow out of this brief work.  A pastor of a smaller church may examine their ministry to see if one or more of the seven problems Benton lists exist in our church.  If they do, let’s get to work and fix them!  Perhaps we will see our ministry grow as a result.   

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Why Join A Small Church?

  1. Thanks for this review, Doug. I saw this book at the RTS Orlando bookstore the other day (the seminary I attend), and wanted to pick it up and read it. Unfortunately, I’m on a temporary book-buying freeze…

    Anyway, I have a lot of sympathy for what Benton is saying. I drive about 10 miles to church, and go past a number of different churches. My wife and I decided on this particular church because it was small (we came out of a new church plant before we moved to Florida) and it was part of the denomination we were already in.

    But, like Benton points out, there are a lot of obstacles here. A number of points on the second list you’ve got in the post hit very close to home, and I can identify with. Sometimes I do get really discouraged and want to leave, but I realize that at the same time there is a ton of work to be done here, and many different ways in which we can serve.

    However, yeah, we don’t live close to the church. My struggle here is more theological. Can I belong to a church that differs theologically from the tradition I align myself with? And if so, how much deviance can I allow? I’m a member of the Presbyterian Church in America right now. As for Reformed churches close to my house, there are a couple. There is one PCUSA church within about a 5 minute drive, as well as a Sovereign Grace church. So, can I join a PCUSA church even though that denomination is marked by such a great deal of liberalism? Can I join a Sovereign Grace church, which though largely Reformed theological, differs on the issue of baptism and charismata?

    Like I said, I haven’t read Benton’s book, and so I’m not sure if he addresses issues like that. I don’t want to be the arrogant guy who goes into a church that differs in theology and practice with the intent on altering it entirely because I think I’ve got all the answers. But at the same time, I do believe that God has blessed me with depth of insight into His revelation, and want to share that knowledge and wisdom with His people, wherever they are.

    Just thinking out loud…but thanks again for this post. It’s helpful to think through some of these things.

  2. Hi Jake,

    Thanks for stopping by and sorry about the delayed response. I understand the book-buying freeze.

    You raise some thought -provoking scenarios. And you’re right, Benton does not interact with theological tensions of attending one church over against another. I think he assumes that a person could, in good conscience, affirm the doctrinal statement of the small church.

    I agree with you that it would be arrogant and subversive to join a church because it’s close and small and could use our help with the intent of altering it. However, could you join a Presbyterian Church in the PCUSA which is moderately or considerably more conservative than the denomination as a whole? I think so. But maybe, just maybe, it’s time to consider a good, conservative Baptist church. 🙂 Michael Lawrence wrote an interesting chapter in Why I Am A Baptist (eds Tom Nettles and Russell Moore), “Why I Am A Baptist–Again: Confessions of a Former, Former Baptist,” pp.87-94. He went from the SBC to the PCA and back to the SBC.

    But, levity aside, if one can agree doctrinally and philosophically with a church and there is a choice to betwen one closer or one further away–choosing the closest one, in my opinion, in preferable. Then, if there is a choice between a small and large church with little difference in travel time, I would go with the smaller one.

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