The average size church in America, I'm told, is 75 people. When I served as a teaching pastor in a large, mega-church I remember wondering how a church could remain less than a hundred people for long. Now that I've been a church planter for almost 3 years, God has greatly tempered my previous ignorance. If the average size is 75, then it only makes sense that many churches attract fewer than 75.
We had 61 people at Church Requel two weeks ago and we were thrilled! Ironically it was a weekend when Mary Kay and I weren't even there. We received emails and text messages from many parishioners celebrating the evening. It felt good.
We're the size church that has to look up to see "average." With that mindset it's easy to fall into a sense of inadequacy. We live in a world of "super" things: Super Bowl, supermarket, and megachurch. In such a super atmosphere, where BIG is celebrated, where large numbers equals success, it's easy to suffer from low esteem.
Thanks to the foresight of our leadership team, I'm back to my seminary studies at Ashland Theological Seminary. Interestingly, the best class available to me this quarter is "Smaller Churches: Challenges & Opportunities." Wow! Talk about a class designed just for me. Small. Challenge. Opportunity. This class speaks my language!
I've learned that this sense of inadequacy and/or low esteem is the first challenge facing most small churches. I've been thinking a lot about this over the past week. The more I think about this the more I think this is primarily MY issue and not an issue for my parishioners. I think most of them like our small size. Indeed many of them may come primarily because of Church Requel's smallness.
Providentially I'm also teaching a sermon this coming weekend on the topic of envy. This is a passage I planned to teach months ago. This study from Genesis 37 considers Joseph's brothers and their envy of his dreams and their father's love for Joseph. Yesterday I mapped out 6 reasons why envy is so dangerous to our spiritual health. Every point spoke to me. Yes, pastors can be envious.
One of the things that spoke most to me yesterday was the fact that when we are so focused on what we don't have, we lose sight of what we do have. As a small church pastor I don't have access to resources: money, other staff members, Children's ministry... the list could go on and on - not healthy for me to elaborate!
However, I also know I am incredibly blessed. I'm so fortunate to have Church Requel. I'm so blessed to be surrounded by men and women who love me and love our church. So far this week I've had breakfast with one, lunch with another, and last night I celebrated the birthday of yet another with 16 other family members. What a privilege to be included in "family!" I listened to the phone call of another parishioner on his way home from the doctor, who just heard from his doctor that he DID NOT have cancer. This man wanted me to be the first to know!
On top of these relational wonders, we're beginning to see others stepping up in ministry as well. This week - for the first time in almost three years - I'm not producing the printed program. Can I hear a hallelujah? Marci has some pretty basic computer skills - nothing fancy. Since she took the membership class earlier this year she told me she wanted to help do this as her member responsibility. She has been "practicing" the program these last 4 weeks - trying to duplicate on her own what I've been producing. This week she called and said she was ready to go!
Others have stepped forward as well. Steve has taken on the responsibility of organizing our volunteer help. Keeping the schedules going of who's serving and when and where is a challenge all by itself. Lisa has taken on communion setup and Nursery and a general attitude of "what else can I do?" Mary Kay is leading a women's Bible study. This is a far cry from those first days when every single job was a massive effort. Yes, I'm blessed!
While we don't have excesses of time, resources, money, and people to do great things in our community all the time - our small church has done some things in its own small way really well! We have supported four different families - not affiliated with our church - with Christmas gifts of more than $500 each. This past spring, at the encouragement of another parishioner, we distributed full turkey dinners to 100 families! (Turkeys at Easter... why not?) We've partnered a half dozen times with The Salvation Army to give meals to needy families. Most of these efforts have been at the instigation of the Holy Spirit upon our parishioners - not from me waving the "follow me" flag. Yes, our comunity is blessed because of this small church.
I'm convinced that most pastors - especially church planters - don't start off with the goal in mind of leading a small church. Would I love to see Church Requel grow? Absolutely! However, my first priority is to be faithful to the ministry Christ has given me. Faithful and grateful. There may come a time when Church Requel sees the north side of average. In the meantime, however, I'm planning on celebrating smallness. I want to make a BIG deal out of the BIG things God accomplishes through His small Church Requel.