Continuing the efforts of reviving the small town church
“Anyone who is to find Christ must first find the church. How could anyone know where Christ is and what faith is in Him unless they knew where His believers are?” Martin Luther
“Who has despised the day of small things?” Zechariah 4:10. The answer to Zechariah’s rhetorical question is nobody of significance. Nearly all good things begin small. Great ventures start with a first step. Great dreams initiate with a single thought. The salvation of man began with a baby in a manger. The problem with most of us is that we want to start big. Young married couples want to have the standard of living their parents have when they first wed. Amateur athletes want to be professionals without training. The novice businessman wants their business to succeed immediately. No price growth equates to valueless dreams. Do not despise your small beginning. Rejoice in it. The small areas of life teach faithfulness, patience, and knowledge. The smaller your beginnings, the better your chances. The game is hardest won after it has begun. Maybe you have started too big. If so, back up and do not despise the day of small things.
Nearly all good things begin small. Great ventures begin with a first step. Great dreams initiate with a single thought. The salvation of man began with a baby in a manger.
Like many small towns in America, our hometown has a church on just about every corner. The only reason many of them survive is their age. Most were built in the early or mid-20th century and some in the 19th. The property has been long paid, and the few members that remain can sustain the little cost of overhead.
The majority of these churches were built at a time when folks walked to church. Many therefore have no parking lots. Street parking is adequate for the few in attendance.
Being uncertain of the statistics, I am fairly sure that there are thousands of small churches with attendances less than twenty. Some have seating capacities of hundreds or more. Many are beautiful structures, built at a time when craftsmen were artisans, and the materials used were to last until the Lord’s return.
They are hollow shells of fading memories, glory days long past. Yet, when I walk into these enduring structures, maintained by a few faithful, I sense life. I hear hymns of old; I see altars once filled with the repentant; there are tear-stained pews that rejoiced with weddings and mourned at funerals. I see children scurrying to Sunday school classes taught by anointed lay-teachers. I see history waiting to be revived. But how, how do we awaken these sleeping giants of the past?
What are some answers?
1. Bloom where you’re planted. If you were and are a neighborhood church, reach out and be a good neighbor. Make sure that the church facility is maintained and well kept. Make it available to the community: Boy and Girl Scouts, civic meetings, etc.
2. Invest in not only maintaining an empty building; invest in filling it with people. Most people no longer walk; if available and affordable, invest in parking. If an older community, invest in handicap accessibility: parking, entryways, and restrooms.
3. Relentlessly invite people to church; preach and teach it continuously; model it; reward it. The key here is “Relentlessly.”
4. Be hospitable. The greatest asset of the small church is that they love one another. The greatest problem with many small churches is that they love one another, but only one another. Assign friendly greeters. Have a welcome counter with clear information and directions. Have clear marked guest parking. Instruct members to make sure that the pastor is personally introduced to their guests. Hospitality must be taught and practiced.
5. Make sure that the messages are relevant for today by answering questions people are asking. Stop only reaching the reached and teaching the taught. Focus on winning souls and making disciples.
6. Tough changes may be in order. I was recently in a small church whose pastor was in his 80s. He told me the only reason he was still pastoring, “I cannot afford to retire.” In many instances, there is no simple answer to this kind of dilemma, but one: growth. Change what needs to be changed when able. Set goals for change.
7. Consider adopting a new church plant, by either letting them use or rent the facility or joining together. Like all mergers, yes, there is a risk. However, in a diminishing church, there will have to be risks taken.
8. Pastor, stop waiting tables. “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:2-7. Seven men willing to serve changed the size, shape, and destiny of the church. God could have called for more prophets or more priests. He could have asked for more leaders and administrators. He did not. He asked for seven men willing to be servants. God is still looking for people who are eager to serve. He is looking for ushers and greeters, helpers, and attendants. If we are genuinely interested in the spreading of the gospel of Christ, we will find an area in which to willingly serve. Consider this; the first-century church had the apostles as their pastors and leaders. These were the very men who walked with Christ. Nevertheless, it took seven men willing to serve tables for the explosive growth of the church. God is looking for people who do not care who gets the credit or even notice. He is looking for people with a heart to serve so the number of disciples will multiply greatly.
No matter what methods used to grow, each will require a change of some sort. The small church must be willing to change everything and anything, but one thing: the Gospel of Christ. It is and will always remain the power of God unto salvation. Therefore, preach the Gospel. Build the church. There is strength and influence in numbers. “Five will chase a hundred… a hundred will chase ten thousand…” Leviticus 26:8.
Adapted from, Church by the Book, by Tony Foglio, on Amazon.
(“From the Pulpit” is a weekly sermon provided by the clergy members of The Weirton Ministerial Association)