Karl Vaters has written a wonderful, almost poetic, reflection on the resilient power of small churches.
I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about the importance of what are called “mediating institutions” in our culture, and what he says rings true.
A mediating institution is a social organization that stands between the individual citizen and the large, organized state. Healthy people and communities have healthy mediating institutions, and societies with unhealthy and overly-large governments are populated with corroding or disappearing mediating institutions.
Traditionally we put a small handful of organizations into the category of “mediating institutions”: family, church, school, and voluntary organizations. When those are healthy, individuals find relational connection and moral meaning in the groups to which they belong. Those organizations are tailor-made to pass along a sense of meaning, morality, and community. When these corrode, however, a large government steps in to take their place. And large governments – the state – are really bad at providing meaning, morality, and relational connection.
The local church is a critical part of that local network of organizations that create health in a community. If a family attends their local church and are connected, the research about their health, economic well-being, and their children’s future are much improved. When a community has a healthy local church, it does better even when a lot of individuals don’t attend.
Vaters is right. The local church, which is often much smaller than the ballyhooed mega-church, is a resilient and critical part of every community.