Philip Yancey has posted a beautiful piece called “Small Is Large” on his blog in which he argues for the value of small churches.

Yancey’s article should be read in full here:

The article is based on a quote Yancey found in G. K. Chesterton’s book Heretics, where Chesterton writes

“The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world.”

Yancey goes on to explain,

 The reason is obvious.  In a large community we can choose our companions.  In a small community our companions are chosen for us.

Precisely!  Given a choice, I tend to hang out with folks like me…Smaller groups (and smaller churches) force me to rub shoulders with everybody else.

Henri Nouwen defines “community” as the place where the person you least want to live with always lives.  Often we surround ourselves with the people we most want to live with, which forms a club or a clique, not a community.  Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community.

For Yancey the willingness to embrace diversity is the core of what it means to be a Christian church. 

The Christian church was the first institution in history to bring together on equal footing Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free.  …

Church is the one place I visit that brings together generations: infants still held at their mothers’ breasts, children who squirm and giggle at all the wrong times, responsible adults who know how to act appropriately at all times, and senior citizens who may drift asleep if the preacher drones on too long.

…. I deliberately seek a congregation comprising people not like me, and I find such people less avoidable in smaller churches.

….Better to work things out in small communities, where we may have less choice about our companions ─ but so does everyone else.

Small church requires a willingness to accept mess.

Big church can afford to produce a professional product. Big church has high-powered music, top quality print production, excellent preaching, slick children’s programming, high-end technology, and well-trained greeters. Big church is tidy, predictable and under control.

Small church is more like real life. It will always be a little more messy than big church. It is rough around the edges. Things seldom run smoothly. People don’t show up at their appointed time. Equipment malfunctions; someone sings out of tune. Visitors sometimes get overlooked. Nothing is perfect.

Small church upsets my need for life to run smoothly.

But ironically, in small church, there is room for everyone, space for every offering because perfection is not required.

In small church whatever offering is offered is welcome. You do not have to be good enough, only willing enough. The point is not the product but the process. And process aims at helping people feel there is a place for them wherever they may find themselves on their journey.

The only standard in small church is that you show up honestly and treat people gently and respectfully.

Small church is not high-powered. It may not produce a tingle running down your spine every Sunday. You may not come away from small church feeling pumped, hyped and energized. But, you may feel you have been somewhere real. You may feel you have been among people who are genuine and are sharing in an authentic human experience.

Small church connects us with the real struggles of real people. In small church we cannot avoid the inevitable bumps in the road that are part of real life. But, in small church, we commit to staying together and carrying on in spite of our failures. So, small church is the perfect training ground in that quality of faithfulness that equips us to live well in the rest of life.