I’ve been involved in small churches for my entire Christian journey. For much of that journey I’ve watched Christians gazing at larger churches and pining over the “bigness” of them 1. Large churches have budgets to put on great presentations, create state of the art gathering places, and can create programs for just about anything. Big churches can do it all, and small churches often wish they could do that too. So they stretch themselves to try to match what “successful” churches are doing, and wind up burning everyone out in the process.
Here’s my advice for small churches who are struggling with this temptation, “Don’t go there, it’s a dead end.” I know our culture is hooked on the language of “the marketplace,” and the notion that every societal relationship needs to be based off competition, but life just isn’t like that. The church of Jesus Christ should never be like that. Different churches are not competing for marketshare, we are all embassies of the same Kingdom.
What I recommend for churches, especially smaller churches, is to discover what the congregation is both motivated for and implements well — and then steer into the skid.
- Is your church passionate about social justice? Then allow the Spirit to grow the fellowship in this impulse.
- Is your church musically inclined? Then encourage those gifts to be used to bless others.
- Does your church thrive on showing over-the-top hospitality? Then pursue ways this gift can be shared far and wide.
- Is your church generous? Then grow that generosity to support ministries and outreaches which may benefit from that attribute.
Of course these examples just scratch the surface of what congregations both enjoy and implement well, and most churches will have two or three of these passions active among the congregation. But it doesn’t matter if there’s one, three, or a dozen passions which can be supported by a church. When a group of Jesus’ disciples stop trying to compete with other groups of Jesus’ disciples, and allows the Spirit to form them in the mission for which they have unique qualifications, they resonate as being authentic. Because they are, and a church’s “bigness” or “smallness” doesn’t matter at that point.
The wonder is each passion exhibited in a church will inform all the practices which are common to every church. Worship, Christian education, service projects, and outreach all take on the unique tone of each congregation. And together the mosaic of Jesus’ followers, both as persons and as groups of persons, becomes a beautiful image of what Jesus’ Kingdom is. I’ll take that beauty over marketplace share any day, all the way into eternity.
- I’ve also been that Christian. ↩