Local Church in St. Pete focuses on the value of personal relationships

By Hannah Simpson

In the last decade, mega churches across the nation have been booming and becoming a staple of modern day Christianity.

Churches with an average attendance of 1,800 people or more constitute a mega church.

According to the Hartford Institute for Religious Research, there are 120 mega churches in the state of Florida alone. With an increasing number of attendees, where does this leave small churches? 

Daryn Kinny, pastor of Local Church in St. Petersburg, answers some questions about the importance of “small church” and where it’s headed. 

Kinny was one of 13 pastors who served a congregation of over 4,000 people in attendance. Now, with about 230 people every Sunday, Local Church is a stark contrast to his former position. 

“The church is people. Not a building, not a logo or website, not an event. It’s people, walking together on the mission Jesus has given his followers: to go and make disciples,” Kinny said. 

This is not the first time these words have been put together when it comes to Christianity. Many pastors agree that getting the definition of  “church” right is critical. 

Understanding that the church is God’s people and not a physical place helps believers understand the importance of others and the insignificance of the building they are meeting in. 

A major benefit from having a small church is the relationship that exists between congregation and pastor. 

Kinny believes making disciples happens in this sort of “context of relationship.” 

He says the most appealing aspect about smaller numbers is that there is this relationship dynamic immediately available to the congregation. While leadership in any size church can be healthy or unhealthy, small churches make personal relationships between congregation and pastor an initial priority. 

Because mega churches generally have over 2,000 attendees, it’s easier for them to operate more as businesses, rather than churches. Greater staff numbers are necessary, more volunteers and people in ministry are required, and greater funds are needed in order to provide a great experience for each guest. 

While mega churches have beneficial monetary impact on things like missions and donations to important causes, they often lack the intimate relationship and accountability that comes from small churches. Kinny confronts this reality:

What about discipleship? What about individuals growing in their walk with Jesus, taking on the responsibility to own the call to make disciples? We live in a culture where we’re more comfortable with being a spectator. Christianity is not for spectators. We live in a culture that lifts up personalities and individuals to a dangerous height – many times only to watch them fall. It’s one thing to fill a calendar with events, it’s another to sit down with a person wrestling through the brokenness of life, processing the love of God.

There were some challenges in starting Local Church. 

For one, leaving a former church to start a new one can have relational impacts. In other words, it’s important to leave your community respectfully and with good intentions.

“Communicating with leadership you’ve labored with for years and with a church you love, in a way that is clear and agreeable is not easy,” Kinny said. “Arriving at a clear plan where all are in unity is not easy.”

Walking away from one church to start a new one has its risks. While starting Local Church, some of the challenges they faced included financial burdens, developing leadership in others, and staying true to their vision. 

However, for Pastor Daryn, the greatest challenge came when he understood he had to remain consistent and dependent in prayer. 

“…dependence on the Spirit is vital,” Kinny said. 

Even while challenges can come often, Kinny was not shy to point out the blessings from this experience.

“God has been incredibly faithful to provide people, funds, a building and direction,” Kinny said. “I’m still learning the “lead pastor” role after pastoring as an associate for 20 years. I’m enjoying this new role. There is so much to celebrate! It’s humbling, encouraging and faith-building.” 

There are always opportunities to grow churches. Making disciples is something that Christians value and want to see in their communities. Doing it effectively with love and intention is considered equally valuable. 

There is a shift in the culture of Christianity that is moving away from bright lights and modern mega churches, back to the foundational small environments that the original disciples of the Bible started with.