Recently, across the platforms of social media, I've seen some interesting commentary on small churches from people that I know fairly well and from complete strangers. Full disclosure: I'm the pastor of a community that sees between 15 and 30 people on a Sunday morning right now, so I've a deeply seated interest in the success of little churches.
Some find the draw of a small community compelling, because it allows them to truly know everyone, as well as develop a vested interest in the ongoing ministry of the place. Some enter a small congregation like ours and find a reason for excitement, because they may truly have a voice in the shaping of this community's identity.
Others struggle with small communities because of a lack of age-specific programming and the relatively small numbers in each group. For instance, our community currently includes one elementary aged student, two middle schoolers, no high schoolers, and a half-dozen college students. We are an inherently different type of congregation than those that offer Sunday school for every grade individually or a worship experience entirely separate for children, youth, and adults. Some enter a small congregation like ours and find a reason to despair, because it doesn't fit the common model for a successful congregation.
But here's the thing. We still have a vision for growth. Our weekly worship numbers are trending upward, as is our membership. We've developed new programs with our campus outreach and with ministry to people with disabilities. We've also begun conversations with the middle school and local library about some form of weekly after school programming. First time worshippers with us may not come to know this all, that there's a vibrant life of outreach and mission that comes from within this small group of people.
That leads to two, interrelated realities.. First, small churches must do better about communicating our identities, our commitments, and our missional work, not only on Sunday mornings, but throughout the week via personal conversations, social media, and in the community at large. If we're only known as the little congregation, then the onus is on us to help communicate the heart of our little congregation. The cliche about first impressions is true. We only get one chance to make that impact, so we need to do better in making an impression that compels others to join in mission with us.
Secondly, though, for those of you visiting churches and looking for a new church home, don't let the attendance numbers or age distribution alone indicate whether there's life to be found in that place. Ask questions about their outreach, their mission, their vision for kingdom work. What you notice is lacking may just be a niche that you fit within that community, a gift you may offer to God, the church, and the community.
Small churches have big dreams, dreams of growth in the kingdom of God, and many are at work to realize vision. We all need to find betters ways of communicating that hope and of seeing that potential.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.