The Blessings of a Small Church
1 Corinthians 1:27-29 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.
People are weird. I can say this with authority as a bona fide “people” myself. We have strange reasons for doing things sometimes.
I almost just wrote, “nowhere have I seen this more apparent than in ministry,” but then I remembered via flashback the near decade I spent in healthcare before the ministry. You see a lot of strange things in Emergency Rooms.
In any case, I was thinking recently about small churches and how people often feel about attending them. I can say this from some experience as well, since I pastor one.
I have seen people come and go… mostly go. Ha! Their reasons are sometimes infuriating, sometimes, confusing, and in a few cases laughable.
I’ve had people come because they agreed with the Doctrinal Statement but would not stay because we HAVE a doctrinal statement. Apparently, if doctrine was really important to the people, we wouldn’t need to have it on paper! I have no words.
I guess I was unaware of the un-separate behavior of writing important things down. They felt the same way about the Constitution and Bylaws, and the Church Covenant. Weird, right?
Seems though that to visit a church in hopes of joining because you agreed with their doctrine when you read it, makes the argument against having one written kind of a self-defeating proposition. Feeble-mindedness is real, people.
I once had someone say our church was “exactly what I’m looking for”, but “You don’t have a steeple. Real churches have steeples.” Yes, that one was for real. They were not kidding.
I once had a family walk out and never return because the church secretary (who is, in fact, a woman) was asked to read the last months meeting minutes to the church publicly in the business meeting.
The secretary is the recorder of the minutes. The minutes are not a scriptural exposition. They’re not an authoritative or educational lecture. They’re simply a report of what happened.
The “minutes”, literally just the events of the last meeting, were being read…by a woman, which took all of thirty seconds. That was apparently enough to scare them off.
Some twisted-humor part of my brain wishes the meeting minutes had begun with the phrase, “Please turn in your Bible’s to…”, if for no other reason than to watch a literal “brain-melt” happen. I’m a curious guy.
I once had a guy stop attending because he wanted preaching that “blows my hair back.” I’m not exactly sure how to accomplish that in preaching without the supplemental use of hair dryer, and a very large one at that because he always sat on the back row. I may have been happy to oblige if he’d have picked up and extension cord.
I’m presuming though that he meant the kind of preaching where a guy shouts and screams, berates, pounds, stomps, turns red, and has varying sizes of projectile spittle flying like little bacterial bombs around the building. Perhaps that’s why on his first visit he chose the back row. He didn’t know what to expect.
I assured him that at our church, his hair would remain safely in place because if something isn’t effective while spoken in normal volume, it’s unlikely to be effective when shouted- spittle notwithstanding.
I for one, have wondered how a guy doesn’t feel like a complete phony preaching like a machine-gun in the pulpit, and then speaking like a human at home. How do his kids not see his preaching (or then any preaching) as performance instead of something real? His real self is then either the one in the pulpit or the one at home, but it seems any logical kid can’t conclude that it’s both. But I digress.
Perhaps the most common reason (in my limited experience) why families visit once or twice and don’t remain is, “you don’t have many options for kids.” I’ve heard this one an awful lot.
As a church-plant, you literally begin as a church with yourself, your wife, and your own kids. You tend to not have “kids programs” as they’re called because, at least in our family, that would have been fifty-percent of the church in those days.
To dismiss the kids to their class would require them to have a teacher, namely my wife, leaving only me to apparently preach the sermon to myself. At least then I’d have a captive audience provided no out-of-body experiences happen.
I’d have no doubt the audience would actually listen. And most amazingly, the audience would already have the sermon notes written out even before I’ve preached the sermon!
Offerings would be pretty easy to collect, and business meetings would undoubtedly be short and have no shortage of unity. I wouldn’t have to worry if there was anyone I forgot to greet, though shaking hands would look a bit odd. Then again, no one would notice. Should I choose to give an altar call, I’d have no doubt that 100% of those present would be at the front immediately.
Thankfully, after four years, we have a wonderful, small group of people and I don’t have to preach only to myself. I much prefer it the way it is now. Oh, back to kids classes.
So, typically, kids classes can’t really be implemented until there are more kids. Except, when people with kids come, they don’t see any “kids programs.” Wonder why. Perhaps if such families with kids stayed in attendance, there would be more kids present since it’s unlikely they would feel very spiritual sitting in church while keeping their kids locked in the car. With more kids available, it could then be warranted to have kids classes. Someone has to be first!
Anchor People: Your Values Are Showing
What I’m getting at here is the concept of “Anchor People”. Every young church has Anchor People. Some have referred to such people as “scaffolding” because they’re present at the beginning, building phase of a congregation. They’re faithful, reliable people. They bring stability, sort of link an anchor.
These Anchor People, are people that look for specific things in church. And they tend to be quick to serve.
I don’t want the fact that I’ve given them a title, to diminish their value to merely a “thing”. Anchor People are some of best people ever! Every church-planter I know speaks fondly of the early memories of the Anchor People present years ago when their church first began.
Anchor People often tend to care about what doctrine the church has. Does the church have orderliness and an official calling and commission? Is the preaching doctrinal, Biblical, accurate, understandable, etc? Is the Pastor qualified? Does he invest himself in this ministry?
Small Church is Awkward
Anchor People seem most often willing to live with some of the awkwardness of the small church setting so long as the important things are there. You can see what Anchor People value most.
In a small church, others might hear you singing the hymns because there are fewer voices. Awkward!
In a small church, on gloomy, bad-weather days, you may be the only family to show up on a Wednesday night service so the sermon appears to be directed only at you. Awkward!
In a small church, business may always have motions made and seconded by the same two guys because they’re the only voting members present. Awkward!
In a small church, being a visitor might make you stand out because this small group of people has gotten to know one another quite well and you feel like perhaps they’re overly-eager to meet someone new. And, there’s no big crowd to disappear in. Awkward!
Families that are ok with the small church setting, are often principle-based people. They look for the important things in a church. It doesn’t bother them if there are few or even no kids programs yet. They figure, “well, some one has to be first.”
It doesn’t bother them if people see or hear them participating in the singing. It doesn’t bother them if they’re the only ones present on a “down Sunday”. They seem to understand a little more about how God thinks of size; “…base (little) things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen.”
Note: I’m not suggesting that all people who attend bigger churches have no principles (though these days I have to wonder about many). However, if you avoid a good small church in favor of a bigger one in order to avoid the awkwardness that sometimes comes with smallness, you might ask yourself if your priorities are in order. Even if the bigger church is a good one, what you prioritize may make it a problem for you.
Inversely, people that choose a church because of its programs, social connections, the excitement of large, bustling crowds, the visual and auditory stimulation of a cacophony of post-service conversations, and so on; those people reveal what they value most about church.
I have actually seen families who were growing, being helped, overcoming addictions, and learning the scriptures instead leave and go to churches where their kids felt more happy because things felt “bigger”, more “official”, and so on. Neither the small church nor the big church was bad. They just felt less awkward in the bigger one. In neither case will they grow much. Why? Because their priorities are skewed. Nothing will get better for them until their priorities get straightened out.
Their lives returned to the Christian’s Descent into Chaos, but at least their kids had temporal happiness. They revealed what they value- present comforts over long-term growth. They tend to not stay at the bigger church for long either, though. Eventually, something will feel uncomfortable or inconvenient there too and they always make moves for comfort and convenience rather than for principle.
The fact is, some folks need the small church setting. A bigger church, even one that is good, can be a distraction to some people who really just need the attention of a smaller church.
A smaller church might more keenly be aware of your flaws because of the familiarity that is “baked into the cake” of the smaller church setting. For some, maybe that’s what they need; a shot in arm; a reminder that they have flaws like everyone else. We’re often able to hide the ugly side of ourselves in bigger crowds, even only marginally bigger ones.
It’s not wrong to value programs, larger crowds, and the excitement of many conversations. They’re just not the highest things to value about a church. And often times, valuing those things most enables us to keep our character for the most part unknown to our brethren. It can enable us to hide. No sharpening may ever take place if we’re always hiding our dulness in the programs, crowds, and business of church.
Smaller churches really do bring a reality to the phrase, “church family”. And for the most part, that’s what Anchor People aren’t afraid to do- to become a family with other believers. It’s really a great thing.