Preaching for a small congregation has enabled me to witness the aging of the church in a very direct way. Yes, many churches, regardless of size, even some large metropolitan congregations, are aging, but at a much slower, less-discernable, and less-threatening rate. This problem is particularly hard-hitting in small, rural churches, and we must address it.
The small church has many favorable strengths. Small churches tend to be more communal and more familial in nature. A member of a small congregation is more apt to feel "at home" with his fellow congregants. An air of intimacy is present in the small church that is not easily enjoyed or replicated in the large church, and this atmosphere of togetherness and closeness can greatly encourage the faithfulness of individuals. And small churches generally address conflict with in the congregation with greater swiftness and effectiveness than do larger churches.
Despite theie strengths, however, small churches have some very unfavorable weaknesses. These limitations have become even more glaring in an age when youth have so many distracting influences surrounding them. Small churches are usually not in a position to offer many opportunities and resources to enhance the spiritual development of their young people. For instance, the educational program of the small church is usually weighted to the adult population of the congregation--necessity may demand this. Classes are offered toi children and youth, but usually several ages and grades of kids are grouped into a single class, or classes have just a handful of students present at any meeting. Many factors are at play: a lack of facilities, a shortage of teachers, and, certainly, a lack of students.
Don't get me wrong, small churches can be effective at educating children and youth and helping to develope them into stong, mature Christians. I am only outlining some of the obstacles we face. These obstacles are real, but they can be managed and overcome. The situation in which small churches find themselves may often demand creative solutions. Because the ducational system of a small church cannot be tailored to specific age groups and grade levels, perhaps a comprehensive system of intergenerational ministry should be devised, where children and adults learn together. Perhaps a number of congregations in a city or area should join together to increase the pool of available opportunities and resources. Perhaps area-wide youth activities should be organized and promoted.
These thoughts are offered for your consideration, but they are meant to encourage action. Iask, if the trend of an aging church continues, where will the church be in thirty years? Fifty? One hundred?