In the midst of a stimulating article in the new issue of Themelios on how to handle the decision to do a PhD, Westminster’s always provocative Carl Trueman offers a comment about church size that caught my attention:
“Second, church involvement brings with it a natural accountability at a very practical level. Here I guess I show my strong preference for smaller churches. I cannot prove from Scripture that a church should never consist of more than three hundred or so people, but I would argue that a church which is so big that the pastor who preaches cannot know every member by name, and something about their daily lives, needs, and struggles, is a church where the pastor cannot easily fulfill the obligations of a biblical shepherd of God’s flock. Put bluntly, I want to be in a church where my absence on Sunday will soon be noticed and where the pastor or elders can draw alongside me and ask the pertinent questions.
I want to be in a church where the eldership takes note if my behavior towards my wife or children is sub-par on a Sunday (hinting at much worse in private). I want to be in a church where I pray for the leadership and where they pray for me—not just in a generic sense of being part of the membership, but informed prayer based on real relationships. In other words, I want to be in a church where my pastor is, well, my pastor and not just that guy who is preaching over there in the distance on a Sunday morning. Put yourself in a small, faithful church, and the pastor is more than likely to hold you accountable to the basics of Christian belief and practice.”I would love to hear what readers think of this. Do you agree with Trueman? Does your personal experience lead you to think that the theologian is off his rocker? What arguments would you make either way?
I find myself agreeing with Trueman on a personal–though not necessarily exegetical–level. I mean this as no rebuke against large churches. But in my experience, smaller churches seem much more able to perform the ecclesiastical and spiritual duties enjoined upon local churches by the New Testament voices.
This does not mean that I think that big churches are bad or unscriptural. I would not say that. But it does seem to me that it is easier in some key ways for smaller churches to hold members accountable, care for one another, and that sort of thing.
What do you think?