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Why Join a Small Church Paperback – September 20, 2008
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
How to make a small church great is dealt with the ideal of living near to your church and being faithful to its work. John Benton issues a solemn warning: 'it may well be that the present time is an irrecoverable moment for the church in our land'. (Grace Magazine)
"A thought-provoking book which helps the reader re-examine the reasons why he or she is worshipping in a particular church. It is also very helpful for someone moving to an area and making decisions about where to worship." (Woman Alive)
"Highly recommended" (New Life ~ Australia's Christian Newspaper)
About the Author
John Benton is pastor of Chertsey Street Baptist Church, Guildford, England and Managing Editor of the monthly newspaper, Evangelicals Now. John & his wife Ann have written many books; some as a joint venture. They are in demand as conference speakers.
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The problem of small churches is then further compounded by the repulsion that Christians often feel when they visit a small church. As soon as a visiting Christian discovers the size of the church, they flee and end up choosing a bigger church, even if that decision means travelling a lengthy distance. The result is that the small church gets even smaller as it fails to attract new people and gradually shrinks through people moving away, including moving into glory.
John Benton is one Christian who has recognised the problems associated with small churches. His concern for the situation is so great that he has written the book, ‘Why join a small church?’, to help Christians love the small church.
The book contains five short chapters, each addressing a particular issue relating to small churches:
(i) reasons to take up the challenge;
(ii) problems you may face;
(iii) why it is a tragedy if small churches close;
(iv) how to make a small church a great church;
(v) encouragement for the task.
Each chapter itself is well structured with appropriate points. For example in chapter one, the case to join a small church is gradually and soundly built by the points:
(i) the big churches can spare you;
(ii) the small churches need you;
(iii) small churches give opportunities to serve;
(iv) small churches enjoy closer fellowship;
(v) smaller churches will stretch you more as a Christian;
(vi) small churches offer you a life’s work of real significance;
(vii) small churches offer you the chance to confound the world.
Benton’s writing style is easy to read, peppered with illustrations and built on sound Biblical exegesis.
Benton also knows how to challenge the reader. Consider these closing paragraphs from the first chapter:
‘What kind of criteria do you use to decide which church to get involved with? Many Christians sadly are guided by some pretty threadbare, not to say worldly benchmarks.
Here are a few I have run into. ‘What is the music group like?’ ‘Is the church building impressive and smart?’ ‘Are there lots of fit girls or hot young men in the congregation who perhaps might make me a partner in life?’ ‘Do the services use the latest technology?’ ‘Does the pastor wear sharp clothes and have a winning smile?’ ‘Is the minister famous?’ ‘What is the coffee like?’ ‘Are there so many people that I am unlikely to be asked to do anything too onerous and can just relax in the church?’ These are factors at which the apostles would be completely astonished. Yet sadly these things do rule the choices of many Christians.
Hopefully our criteria when considering churches are of a rather higher standard than that. ‘Is the love of Christ shown in the friendliness of the people?’ ‘Is the teaching Biblical?’ ‘Is the church seeking to reach with the gospel?’ Those are much better standards by which to judge a church. But let’s be honest, many small churches do meet those criteria. So why not join?’
If these words are read in their context at the end of a hard hitting chapter, they should be sufficient to move most Christians to repentance for overlooking the small church for unbiblical reasons.
As someone who has been pastoring a small church for several years, I found the book to be personally encouraging. Benton spurred me on not to give up on my little flock myself, but persevere with them despite the various discouragements that come from their small size. So even though not directly addressed, the common problem of ministers turning away from employment at small churches is also challenged by the book.
The book has also been helpful for roughly ten percent of my membership (but remember, my church is small which means that figure sounds better than it is!). For example, one young adult who was visiting our church read the book once, then read it a second time while making notes – she then decided to join our church instead of a much larger one in the next suburb she was considering. Another member who is sadly moving away said the book gave her a greater passion for small churches and so she and her husband have committed themselves to looking for a small Biblically faithful church in their new location.
Do yourself a favour and read this book – particularly if you’re a pastor of a small church. Firstly it will be helpful for your own spiritual health. Secondly, when you recommend it to your members it will be beneficial for your church’s spiritual health. Thirdly, when you recommend it to exiting members, you may even improve the health of other small churches in the kingdom.
Reviewed 01/14/2009 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. A stretching call to selfless service.
If you don't already attend a small church, what would you say if someone you didn't know admonished you that you ought to attend a small church? Would you seriously entertain the thought? Would you thank them politely for their interest and dismiss the admonishment posthaste? Would you denigrate small churches in the admonisher's hearing? If so, why? Third-rate physical premises? Lack of children's programming? Disconcerting idiosyncrasies? Uninspiring, bland preaching? Potentially unimpressive corporate expressions of worship?
In this modest 64-page book, author John Benton refutes all these objections, and then some. Benton isn't content just to explain why it's okay to join a small church, but explicitly encourages the reader to do so. He goes so far as to say that small churches are particularly special in God's eyes: "In encouraging you to join a small church I am inviting you to get on board God's agenda." Benton extrapolates from Scripture to show how God delights in fulfilling his purposes through small things. Don't be fooled: small things can lead to big things. He claims that smaller churches potentially
* Enjoy closer closer fellowship
* Will stretch you more as a Christian
* Offer you a life's work of real significance
* Offer you the chance to confound the world
Benton's piece de resistance is this circular argument: Unless solid Christian seek out, populate, and serve "little and very local" churches, the light of the gospel may go out in those areas. However, small churches can hold out the offer of the gospel in an authentic, small-scale way that bigger churches cannot: "Everyone needs to become a Christian and local churches are the God-ordained means of holding out the Word of life to the community." For all the megachurches that successfully attract scores of unbelievers and nominal Christians to their services and functions, there is a disturbing lack of discipleship and retention occurring (see Willow Creek's recent study, published under the title Reveal). Benton claims that these problems do not occur as often in the smaller church because everyone lives in one another's back pocket. There is no place to hide, so sanctification occurs on a regular basis, in a very upfront and personal way.
I hasten to add the following: Benton in no way advocates that one ought to join any old small church willy-nilly. Three major criteria should inform the decision:
* Is the love of Christ shown in the friendliness of the people?
* Is the teaching biblical?
* Is the church seeking to reach out with the gospel?
Provided these criteria are met (and some courageous souls may join a small church lacking these qualities in order to help it become more friendly, biblical, and evangelistic), the secondary question Benton would have us ask is, "How could we drive past one church to go to another?" He tells the story of a couple with children who moved out of London into a small village and decided to attend the local Anglican church which exhibited all of the features mentioned in the first paragraph of this review. Their friends were initially worried for them, but in due time this couple made significant contributions to this church. By the time they moved away three years later, they left a church that had benefited from their selfless desire to be local, involved, immoveable, faithful, evangelistic, prayerful, and trusting - all hallmarks of a godly small church member, according to Benton.
Of course the ubiquitous question, "What's in it for me?" easily arises. To return to the couple from earlier: "There was a real cost to them taking this difficult option to join a small fellowship...whilst not a comfortable or `prudent' thing to do, getting involved in a struggling church may be in God's goodness, a mission from the Lord." Some may write this off as altruistic, so Benton offers a more pragmatic motivator: "You would be a true God-send to a smaller congregation...Don't let the big church bury your talent (Matthew 25:18). Don't become deskilled for lack of opportunity."
You may be asking at this point, "Is it wrong to attend a large church?" Not usually, not always, and not necessarily. As Benton says, "To join a big thriving church is not always wrong, but it is frequently the easy option...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." Intentionally joining a small church is not for everybody, but it seems to Benton that many Christians, for whatever reasons, are not heeding the call.
This book, brief and colloquially written at times, was a quick but convicting read. While I was predisposed toward the author's point of view, I would recommend it even for those who feel adamant about remaining in or joining a large church. This book may stretch you...much like joining a small local church would.