Ode to a small church
Being a minister or pastor, I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want our church to be. There are of course several foundational things that I want for us. I want us to be a place where people meet Jesus, and their lives are changed because of it. I want us to be a place of transformation, love and growth. I would also love for us to be vibrant, growing, and healthy. There is a trap that I can fall into though when I begin to think about this last item in particular. What exactly does a vibrant, growing church look like? Furthermore, is your church not doing well if it is not…big?
I have worked in churches of varying sizes over the years, but none of them can be classified as big churches. The church that I grew up in had 700+ members and it was in many ways a very healthy, thriving church. In my professional life, the largest church I have worked with was right around 200 people. Currently Sonoma Avenue averages around 70 people each Sunday.
Now if I were going to be completely honest with you, I would tell you that there have been many times in my life that I have wanted to be the lead pastor of a big church, but my thinking has changed on this subject. Don’t get me wrong, I would love for Sonoma Avenue to grow and have more people at any given event. I want us to make a big difference for the Kingdom here in Santa Rosa. What has shifted in my thinking is the idea that we have to be a big church in order to be who God wants us to be in this place. I don’t think this is true.
So, here is my controversial statement of the day: I love being the Pastor of a small church.
Maybe I have just one more: A smaller church can do things that a big church can’t.
Let me explain myself. I am grateful that there are large churches, which offer all sorts of great programs. When I was in Antioch, I counted on a larger church in town to offer some of the things that we as a small church could not. They were a wonderful resource for us, and I appreciated all that they were able to do for the community at large. Even here in Santa Rosa, my kids have participated in children’s programs at other churches and I am grateful that those churches offer these programs to the community at large. But as much as I have relied on these larger churches for some things that my church was not able to do, my small churches have been able to do some things that these larger churches were not able to do.
The first and primary thing is that a small church is more easily able to feel like a family. For some this is a bad thing. Many like to have an “anonymous” church experience and a large church certainly offers the opportunity for just such a thing. If there are 1500 people at a service, it is pretty easy to sneak in and out. It is much harder to that in a group of seventy. If you come to church at Sonoma Avenue, you are going to meet practically everyone. Do you know why? Everyone wants to meet you. Everyone is genuinely excited you are there. Because we are smaller, we notice if there is someone new and we greet them as warmly and loving as any church can. There is no anonymity in a small church. I have found on several occasions that this has made it easier for people to feel included, form relationships, and get on board.
Furthermore, it is easier to receive individual attention and support in a small church. We actively share our victories and our struggles with one another. When someone is going through something, the whole church gathers around them to support them with whatever is going on. We pray constantly for one another, write cards, make encouraging phone calls, prepare meals, and generally stay all up in each other’s business. It is such a huge blessing to be a part of a church that loves one another in such a dynamic and active way.
We love our kids. We do not have a huge children’s program, though growing what we have is something that we are constantly working on. But our members know all of the kids in our church. They pray for them by name, encourage them, go to their events and take great joy in everything they do. We may be the only church in town that has kids freestyle dancing on stage every single week.
What is my point? My point is that I am grateful that there are different kinds of churches within the Christian community here in Santa Rosa. I am grateful for the big churches that offer all sorts of great programs. I am grateful for what other churches offer which we simply can’t. But I am not going to waste any time wishing that our church would be something else when God is capable of using us right where we are. We are a small church, and as a small church, we need to embrace what God is calling us to do. He is calling us to be a home for those who need a small community. He is calling us to take care of one another and encourage each other in a personal and intimate way. He is calling us to help one another grow in our relationships with Jesus and to not let anyone fall through the cracks.
He is calling us to be a dynamic and loving family that is constantly being changed and formed by the love of God in Jesus.
Let’s not spend another minute wishing we were a different kind of church. Let’s be the best church we can be right where God called us and formed us.