Over the last couple of decades smaller churches seem to be getting smaller and larger churches seem to be getting larger. People seem to be attracted to larger congregations for a variety of reasons: there’s more to offer kids, youth, singles, older adults, etc. They have quality music (sometimes), and it is easy not to stick out like a sore thumb.
Like everything else, the glamorous, the pretty, the sexy, etc. naturally attract larger crowds. If you have a bouquet of colorful flowers, it will probably draw the attention of more people than say a single rose. A beautifully plated meal is probably going to attract more people than a bowl of raman noodles. It’s to be expected really.
As a man who has only pastored small churches, I must say that this mindset is saddening (and sometimes enraging; at times disheartening). In a world of microwave dinners, many people simply want a microwave church. How often have I heard, I want a bigger children’s ministry. I want something for my teenager. In our world, we simply want ready-made meals that we put little effort into. Large churches do that. Like sticking a Marie Callender’s Chicken Pot Pie in the microwave, we stick our kids or youth or singles or bowling league in and let the church do the rest. We don’t have to worry about a thing. Little to no effort on our parts.
Little churches may not have a vibrant kids’ ministry. To make one would be hard work. No one likes to make meals from scratch. Who has the time? Yet, meals from scratch are often healthier than microwave meals. Kid’s ministries that are in the hands of parents, built from the ground up are hard work, but they’re also rewarding. The same for any other ministry.
What is interesting to me is that there is an innate desire for community within a churches, even big churches. I often hear how people will go on and on about how cool their church is, and then lament that they really don’t know anyone there. So their next adventure within the church is to join a small group or a community group or life group or whatever cool name they’re calling them. There is a desire to be a part of something…smaller. Something more intimate. Hopefully, in this manner one may have their cake (small group) and eat it too (large church).
So, here is the small church down the street. They don’t have as many ministries and they aren’t as professionally done. People chip in and work hard together. Some are small because they keep outsiders on the outside, but others are small because they are the outsiders and no one gives them a chance. Everyone wants to date the jock or the cheerleader. No one wants to date president of the chess club. So they walk on past him barely acknowledging that he’s there so they can flirt with the cool kids. The outward appearance is so attractive that often the real person is never even noticed.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Johnny Lingo. If not:
A man once had a daughter who was a bit comely in appearance. Often times, a father of a pretty young lady would receive an offer of 3 cows for her hand in marriage. An average face would bring 2 cows. This man was secretly hoping for 1 cow for his daughter’s hand. One day, Johnny Lingo, the richest man in town started up the street. He was headed to the man’s house to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. No one could believe it! When he arrived he offered, not just 1 cow or 2 cows. He offered 10 cows! The two married and sailed off for their honeymoon of 2 years. When their boat was coming over the horizon a villager saw it and spread the word: The Lingos are back! The whole village came to meet them. There was Johnny, but where was the man’s daughter? There was a beautiful woman with Johnny and everyone assumed Johnny dumped his new bride and got himself another woman. But then suddenly one by one they began to realize this was the very same woman who departed with Johnny two years prior. Johnny’s love and compassion and tenderness and respect made her outwardly the woman he knew her to be inwardly.
Sometimes small churches need that. I’m not seeking to discount the movement of the Holy Spirit. Any work attempted without the Holy Spirit’s movement is a sham and will fall apart. But I’m also not discounting the fact the Holy Spirit works through people, and that many people (including myself, more often than I want to admit) grieve the Spirit and do not do or go as He prompts and leads. Neither you nor I are the Savior of the church. But we are servants and helpers of the Savior. There are many good, smaller churches that could use the help. And yes, there are many that would serve the community well if they’d just cease to exist (just being honest).
So all I am really saying is the same thing that God said when sending Samuel to David to annoint him as king. Samuel saw the sons of Jesse and believed all of them could be a good king. Yet God said, “Man does not see what the LORD sees, for man sees what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart,” (1 Samuel 16.7, HCSB). I’d encourage you to look deeper than the “ministries and music” of a church and look at the heart of the church. Do they love Jesus and you? Do they love the lost both locally and globally? So their music may not be your style or it may be your style but it isn’t done well. Does that mean that they aren’t worth your time and effort and love? That seems to be the case for most people. Does the church proclaim the truth and proclaim it in love? But they only have one other teenager and no youth group. Ever think that teen might be lonely and need a friend?
I can tell you from experience, a new family in a small church brings new life to the church. Things begin that could not be done before. Two families even more so. Three families, that much more. If people would be patient and caring and serve well, suddenly the beauty within would appear outwardly. A once “unattractive” church will begin to glow. The ugly duckling can become a beautiful swan. It has always been beautiful, but it hasn’t had the chance to show it.