- - are much less likely than members of larger congregations to believe that the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches,
- - are much less likely to believe that sharing their faith with others is important and
- - are much less likely to attend worship and engage in Bible study or other church activities on a regular basis.
One of the first veteran Episcopal priests with whom I served was emphatic that people come to church for "fellowship," and could really care less about spirituality, theology or much of anything else beyond enjoying the company of their friends.
The recent Episcopal "State of the Church" report, largely ignored by the denomination, flagged "lack of evangelism" as a glaring denominational problem.
Nevertheless, my anecdotal experience is that small churches perceive themselves as warmer and more sincere than larger churches. Often, members of these smaller churches do not take into account the "cells" within larger churches, where members find intimacy and spiritual growth apart from the large Sunday worship gathering. Members of smaller churches tend to emphasize "knowing everybody at the service" when they choose to attend and form their perception accordingly.
The small congregation is a staple here on the Plains, where many communities are very small. There are certainly lively, sincere churches that are "small" only as a reflection of the limited or spread out population base from which they can draw members.
But for denominations like the Episcopal Church, where average Sunday attendance in all settings is 80 or less, the research might suggest that congregations are satisfied to meet the social needs of current members, and have no perceived need to find a compelling spiritual message. This is consistent with the findings of the denomination's "State of the Church" data.
In the mid-90s, I heard a church development speaker apply Jesus' words in Luke 19:26 - "I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away" - to the trend of larger churches claiming a growing percentage of America's active Christians, while smaller churches decline. The recent research might suggest that what the growing churches "have" is more than material resources - they have confidence in their Scriptures, urgency about sharing their message and commitment to spiritual growth and practice beyond Sunday mornings.