Roadside Americana: The Smallest Church In America

Smallest Church Sign

“Life doesn’t happen along the interstates. It’s against the law.”
–William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways

Modern interstate highways are the perfect solution, if you only want to get from one large city to another in a hurry. We all use them, and they’re a blessing.  But a fast interstate road trip also offers mile after boring mile of sameness. The same fast food restaurants, gas stations, and motels appear at every exit. What you don’t see on interstates are sights like … “The Smallest Church in America.”

“Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel
across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.
From the Interstate, America is all steel guardrails and plastic signs,
and every place looks and feels and sounds and smells like every other place.”
— Charles Kuralt

Recently, we had what we call an “outing,” which means that we let the car just wander around. Savannah, Georgia was our intended destination, but we weren’t overly concerned if we actually made it there or not. Instead of Interstate 95 (the fastest route), we chose to take US Highway 17, also known as the Coastal Highway. Since 1926 this scenic, two-lane road has been taking drivers from Winchester, Virginia to Punta Gorda, Florida.

Smallest Church in America SL

And since 1949, travelers on this route have been passing Christ’s Chapel in Memory Park, aka “The Smallest Church in America.” The church is located in McIntosh County about 40 miles south of Savannah, and a large, white sign (almost as big as the church), makes it impossible to miss.

Nestled in a grove of Spanish moss-draped oaks and pines, the chapel was an intriguing sight. At 10 x 15 feet, the building definitely fits in the tiny category, and a small bell tower in front completed the churchly picture.

Chapel Interior

Chapel Back Wall

Our initial thought was, “What a cute little building.” Then we tried the door, which opened into a very small sanctuary, complete with cozy seating for 12, a small pulpit in front, and stained glass windows on all sides. This wasn’t just a small building masquerading as a church, it really was a tiny church.

Stained Glass

The churchyard was decorated with small, colorful statuary (complete with solar-powered lights), and the building and grounds were meticulously maintained. The level of care indicates that someone is seriously devoted to this church.

Couple Statue

In fact, when local grocer Agnes Harper built the church, it was deeded to Jesus Christ. I bet that raised some eyebrows at the courthouse.

Holy Family

After a bit of internet research, we discovered that there are quite a few “smallest churches” scattered all over America. Which one is actually the smallest is of little concern to us. Because on this day, Christ’s Chapel in Memory Park was our smallest church.

Get off the interstate from time to time. You’ll be amazed at what you find.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

Stained Glass Wall


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

39 thoughts

  1. Loved Blue Highways. In fact I have read it twice. Peggy and I travel off freeways as much as possible. We start our trip to Alaska tomorrow. Once out of Washington, we will be pretty much out of freeways. (and also internet a good deal of the time.)

    1. Thanks Leslie. One of the enjoyable things about these sights is that you never know where they will turn up. And they also run the gamut from slightly quirky to downright strange. Good fun. ~James

  2. How lovely is that! 🙂 And wouldn’t I like to wander by Savannah one day.
    That would make a great series- “the smallest church in…”

    1. You’re right Jo, it would make a great series. When I googled it for the US, I found a number that claim to be the smallest. One was a converted bus stop, which must be close to the smallest. This one was amazing in its detail, and I loved the lawn art. ~James

  3. LOVE this post and I want to go to this church! I also appreciated the quote at the end of the post “Life doesn’t happen along the interstates. It’s against the law.” It reminds me of that other quote “Put down your map and get wonderfully lost” which I feel you guys do really well….and live to tell amazing stories about it!

    1. Thanks for the nice comment Marilyn. This tiny church really is cool, and what a surprise inside. And getting lost is a regular part of our travel. One of the wonderful things about having a GPS, is that we can go offtrack as much as we want without “getting lost.” Countless times as we drive along, I’ve said, “That looks neat, let’s check it out!” And afterward our trusty GPS gets us back on track. ~James

  4. the interstate system is amazing, but as my dad taught me (which i didn’t appreciate as a teenager. hehe.), taking the back roads almost always leads to some kind of fabulous adventure!

    1. Liz, we just finished a 2000 mile round-trip interstate car trip, and because it was a family issue, we had to move fast. I have a serious case of car-butt, and the trip confirmed everything that I said in this post. But, I did catch up on my reading and napping. 🙂 ~James

    1. Thanks. One of the wonderful things about Americana, is that you never know where it will turn up. The themes and locations are as varied as the people who build and maintain them. Lots of fun, for sure. ~James

    1. Thanks Pam. Given our previous post on weddings, I thought that this church would be a great place for a (very small) wedding. By default, the guest list would be limited to only really special family and friends. ~James

  5. It’s always a better way – if you want to see beautiful wayside sights – not to travel the highways but the byways: I agree.
    Best regards from southern Texas,

    1. Hey Pit. I lived in Texas for 6 years, and I can tell you two things about it that I’m sure you’ve discovered. First, that it has more than its fair share of backroads. And second, Texans have a great sense of humor and ability to laugh at themselves. When you combine these two, it makes for some great roadside Americana, and I’m sure that south Texas is no exception. Keep an eye out. They make easy and entertaining posts. ~James

    1. Miranda, something else that happened (that didn’t make it into the post) as the car was wandering around was that we stumbled onto a u-pick blackberry farm. And if there’s anything that says summer in the south it’s blackberries. Terri made her delicious cobbler, a smidge of vanilla ice cream on the side, and life was good. All thanks to a wandering car. ~James

    1. Good question Erin, but I have no idea. I’m sure that most of this “Americana” has some idea that’s the catalyst, but it’s usually lost in time. In this case, it could be a monument left by a deeply devout person, or the death of a loved one. In the case of some of the more wacky sights, it probably comes up after a few beers. ~James

  6. You two are truly living the charmed life. So happy that you can go and see and live all of these places. Love, love the looks of the tiny church. Just keep on going as long as your health will allow. Love you guys. Carroll

    1. Thanks Carroll. This little church really is as cool as it looks, and it’s such a quiet, private place. And we realize how incredibly lucky we are and never take it for granted. Our plan is to keep traveling until we can’t, and then we’ll see what happens. Our philosophy has always been: “We can always settle down.” Tell Gerry hello, and we hope that you’re both doing well. Love, J&T

  7. We love traveling the back roads whenever possible, where life is the most interesting. Hope you are both enjoying your holiday.

    1. Thanks LuAnn. We are definitely back road people whenever possible. Luckily, on most of our road trips we have the luxury of time, so “blue highways” are the way to go. ~James

  8. Love this! I love wandering back roads and I love photographing little churches. I need to put this route and church on my bucket list. Your blog is so inspirational and informative. I just love everything about it!

    1. We saw a cute little wedding chapel in New England some years ago, but I had never seen a church this small. It is very cool, and if you’re in the area, it’s worth a detour. Also, thanks for the nice comment Catherine. A compliment like this from a blogger of your stature is high praise indeed. ~James & Terri

    1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. What sad news that it was burned, but it’s great that someone rebuilt it. This tiny church, it’s detailed interior, and it’s location make it special. Thanks for the update. ~James

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