Not Every Church is Striving to be Big: The Story of Appalachia’s Small Church

Wytheville, Virginia's Giant Pencil
Wytheville, Virginia’s Giant Pencil

Located at the crossroads of Interstates 81 and 77 is the quiet and peaceful community of Wytheville, Virginia.  Despite the fact that Wytheville has only 7,998 residents, the small Blue Ridge town lays claim to some pretty big things, most notably a nearly three-story tall No. 2 yellow pencil which hangs from a local office supply store.  Inside this building is a pair of massive scissors so large that even Goliath would probably find difficult to use.  Just down the street about a stone’s throw is a tipping bucket of paint, also hanging over Main Street, a throwback to the days local business leaders envisioned lining the street with oversized objects representing each business.

High steeples can be seen towering over these businesses’ decades old marketing ploy of yesteryear, as the tops of the Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian and Catholic sanctuaries reach toward the heavens.

A three minute drive to the east, however, will reveal a rather bizarre sight, a simple white building which is obviously a church, complete with a cross steeple and bell tower, as well as a sign proclaiming, “Wytheville’s Smallest Church.”  In an age characterized by most pastors desiring to become megachurch celebrities, there is at least one sanctuary in town that is happy being small.

The building is just feet from the entrance to a large Pepsi factory and is easily seen by the 70,000+ daily Interstate motorists who drive past the white building each day.

Wytheville's Smallest Church, Photo: Appalachian Magazine
Wytheville’s Smallest Church, Photo: Appalachian Magazine

Having driven past this building literally thousands of times, I recently found myself overcome with curiosity and finally did what I had been meaning to do for years — I stopped to check the place out.

Despite being just yards from the busy two Interstate highways, the grounds were surprisingly calming and quiet.  Stepping inside the building and closing the door behind me revealed an ever greater level of tranquility — I was inside the House of God.

There’s nothing fancy about the building, but at the same time, it’s obvious that a lot of great work has gone into the property and both the interior and exterior is firstclass.

Though I do not have any official numbers, the very most I could imagine ever being seated in the building would be no more than ten people; however, this church wasn’t designed to seat masses of well dressed worshippers on a busy Sunday morning.  This building was created for a single family or even a weary motorist overcome by the stresses of life and in need of restoration.

As I walked out the door, I grabbed a business card to learn more about the building — already thinking about the opportunities to write an Appalachian Magazine article on the subject.

Wytheville's Smallest Church, Photo: Appalachian Magazine
Wytheville’s Smallest Church, Photo: Appalachian Magazine

Driving home, my mind began to prepare the questions I would seek answers to once I was in contact with the people who work to make Wytheville’s Smallest Church a reality: “Who created this church?  Why did they do it?  How many people visit this site?”

That evening, I was finally able to reach the person overseeing the operation and to my astonishment it was someone I knew.  A respectable and humble member of the community who had only one request when it came to the article about Appalachia’s small church: “Don’t mention me — this isn’t about me, it’s about God.”

Turns out, the inspiration for Wytheville’s Smallest Church began in 2009 when the individual was on a business trip.  While driving through a small town in Georgia, the person passed a sign which read, “America’s Smallest Church”.

Pulling onto the property turned out to be a life changing event for the Wythe County resident.

“To this day, it is ever so clear how the Lord spoke in such a mighty way, creating a vision of what was soon to be. As I entered this small building, the presence of the Holy Spirit immediately took hold and breathed a time of Peace into my heart and mind. No human was there to persuade me nor ask for what I might add. It was simply a place to be quiet and see how the Holy Spirit could move. Notebooks filled with signatures of folks that had opened the door of this Holy place. Some of the most sincere prayer requests I have ever read. Pictures of young and old, in Honor and in Memory, these folks had found a place of solice. A single light shining down on a beautiful stain glass image of our Christ with the statement, ‘COME UNTO ME’, I will never forget.”

Leaving the property, the person returned home with a mind filled with gratitude some unknown person and people who had built the tiny sanctuary.

A little more than a year later, the business man’s vision of seeing a similar holy place made in Wytheville was realized as volunteers and donations came together.  “A brotherhood and sisterhood was soon formed — friendships were created that will forever unfold, knowing each person was there for the Lord and ‘self’ was left at home.”

The doors to Wytheville’s Smallest Church officially opened on December 20, 2010, and today the unassuming roadside oddity which doubles as a truly holy place averages 1,000 registered visits per year.

“Many sign every time they visit and others don’t sign at all.  We have had visitation from China, Russia, Netherlands and other places,” said the unnamed overseer.

There are three individuals who maintain the facility, only identified as “Friends of Christ.”  “We look for no fame nor financial gain.  We do not petition for money even though donations are and have been given.”

To put it simply, this roadside stop just along Interstates 77 and 81 in Wytheville is the place to go if you’re seeking a holy place to get alone with the God of Heaven.

Not every church in town is seeking fame or fortune or to be the biggest around: There’s a place in Appalachia that is happy with being small.

“He will bless them that fear the Lord, both small and great.” — Psalm 115.13

Like articles like this? Then you would love Appalachian Magazine’s Mountain Voice: A Collection of Memories, Histories, and Tall Tales of Appalachia!  Click here to check out the book on Amazon!

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