Sunday, October 30, 2011

Small Churches

The College Church, the church I attended in Searcy for the first 23 years of my life, was huge. I’m pretty sure there were well over a thousand members there. But in the surrounding cities and counties, the churches were often much smaller.

From time to time, our family would visit these smaller congregations, especially if my dad or brother or brother-in-law was preaching. One Sunday morning, we attended a church with less than 10 members. The members sat on the left side of the auditorium, and my family sat on the right.

Christmas dinner (about 1990) at the Southwest Church of Christ in Little Rock, Ark.
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Elizabeth writes:
I attended a small Spanish-speaking church until I was about 16 years old. My mom taught Bible classes there, and my dad always led singing. Sometimes the services would last forever because the announcements portion would turn into a congregation discussion time. I knew a lot more details about those people’s lives than any young person really needed to know.


  1. Occasionally, I led singing and preached at Rosebud, AR along about 1969 - 1971. They met in a former Baptist building that had a choir section and the building was quite a bit larger than what they could seat. I recall one cold Sunday when attendance was in the teens and we huddled around a stove to keep warm. My understanding is that a flood came a decade or two later and wiped out the town. My dad's church in Egypt, AR (not far from Jonesboro) where he preaches may range from the twenties to the forties. He is in his eighties and, after a career at much larger churches, it presents the right amount of responsibility and motivation for his needs and talents. They have offered to consolidate with a church five miles away of similar size but it hasn't happened as yet. They do good work. Proud of them, especially my mom and grandmother, for how they have galvanized their church and many in surrounding areas to make clothes and send various useful things to a mission in Panama.

  2. Good stuff, Steve. I definitely have a soft spot in my heart for these smaller congregations. Especially during my military years, our family attended several places where the attendance hovered around 100.

    "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."

  3. My dad preached at a small congregation in Clarendon, AR for 23 years starting when I was 2 years old. Our family made the 1 1/2 hour drive every Sunday and Wednesday. People would sign a list each week to take us home for Sunday lunch and to spend the afternoon at their home before we came back to the building for the evening service. For years, we met in an old barracks that had been converted into a church building - pews on each side, baptistry in the back (had to stand up and turn around to see a baptism) and a few classrooms added with cinder blocks onto the back of the building. Typical congregation that started at the American Legion hut. I remember many Sunday nights when the only people there were my dad, my mom, one or two older ladies (including the county jailer's wife) and me. Daddy often led singing, prayed, served communion, and preached all in the same service. Announcements became a congregational conversation. If my dad didn't know a song that was requested (we often had song request times during class or service), my mom would start it from her seat. Not sure she ever got to sit in the one adult class since she and one or two local school teachers had to teach the children's classes. Daddy would have all of the kids come up from before Bible class on Sunday morning and sing a few songs and introduce ourselves in front of the few adults sitting in the pews. Potlucks were a big deal, but you knew who brought what because it was so small and because you'd had those same dishes when you went home with those people for Sunday lunch. At its peak, we averaged 60 or so people on a Sunday morning when I was a teenager. College Church was a big shock to me. As a kid, I benefited much more than I realized from that small group of Christians. We've been to South Lake Tahoe the past few years where there's a similar situation. Our family of 4 doubled the size of the congregation. Brought back lots of memories.

  4. Mike, the first time I went home with April we attended church with her grandparents. There MIGHT have been 20 people total. Let's just say they were really excited to have TWO active Harding students in their midst.
    As I recall, I was introduced before the service, led a prayer and helped serve communion (with April's grandfather).
    Good memory.

  5. Great story, Laura! Just think of the positive impact your family had on all of those people. Wow.

    Rick ... you doubled the student ministry! One thing I love about small churches ... able-bodied men are always quickly recruited for communion duty. That is a good memory.

  6. Mike, I think the official numbers at College Church were around 2,000 at some point in our growing up. I don't remember when, but I remember that number.

    Now I'm in a church of closer to 1,000, and before that we were with a church of ca. 1,500.

    But I have told people how I miss being in that huge church in Searcy, because it didn't feel so huge. It was a small town, a small college, and we knew everybody. Okay, maybe not everybody, but lots of them! From school, from town.

    And even though I don't know everybody there anymore, I still tear up when the singing starts. Nothing like 1,000 voices singing a cappella in harmony. I miss that, too.

  7. College Church singing was awesome ... no doubt about it.