Every so often, I get very frustrated about the church. No, I’m not mad at anyone, but being the pastor of a small congregation has its challenges. Probably the foremost is that you would like the congregation to grow. I’m not wanting the church to become a megachurch, but I would love to see more people join us and as many of you know, that hasn’t happened as much. People come to visit, but they don’t stay.
I can rattle my brain as to why people don’t become members and I’m sure there are some legitimate reasons, but in my anxious mind, I wonder if the reason people don’t come because we don’t have programs to offer.
It’s common for some congregation to have programs for children and youth, small groups for adults, a worship band, maybe a coffee shop, a van ministry and so on. I don’t know if that is what visitors are thinking, but I do wonder about this. Or maybe they think about our size. With such a small following, do they think we are close to closing our doors?
When I think this way, which can occupy a lot of my time, I tend to forget why we as a congregation are here.
Evangelical Pastor David Platt writes in Christianity Today about a visit to a small, remote congregation. He realizes that he is not there to bring something to them as much as they have given something valuable to him. He learns that what matters most at this time is community. Platt writes:
As I watch what is happening in this room and listen to these conversations between brothers and sisters in the family of God, it hits me: This is it! This is what these villages and the people in them need most! Absolutely, they need the gospel. Without question, they need to hear the good news of God’s grace that gives them eternal life. But they need more than that, too. They need community—the kind of community that treks for two hours—not just to worship with one another but to care for and encourage one another. The kind of community that takes responsibility for one another’s physical needs. They need brothers and sisters who, as we read in Mark 10, provide for one another as family and love one another as themselves (Luke 10). And these villages need a community of men and women who will take great personal risk to share the greatest news in the world with people who have never heard it.
As a church, we have a mission to share the good news of Jesus Christ and to help our sisters and brothers. But to do that, we also need community. Platt learned that what people need is each other. They need people in that congregation that care and pray for each other. We need people committed to God and to each other and to the wider world. We don’t need flashy children programs or small groups. We don’t need a jumping band or an espresso machine. What we need is people in love with God and with each other.
Community is something we need in our world. As our society continues to fragment, people more and more feel alone and cut off from one another. First Christian can and should be an example of a place where people can come and find a place to belong and become.
Twenty years ago, I went along with others from my seminary to mainland China. We met Christian in mountain villages in Southwestern China. After visiting one congregation, we went down the mountain intending to go home for the day. But the stopped. Something blocked the road. Actually it was more someone blocked the road. A number of people from another village blocked the road to invite us to come to their village and worship. They had heard about our visit with another town earlier in the day and wanted to meet us. We went and had a late night worship service.
These people worshipped in an authoritarian society that is not always tolerant of persons of faith. But they still showed their faith in God and in community. They showed it so much that they were willing to block a road and maybe even get in trouble with the government officials who were with us because they desired fellowship.
We are a small congregation, but I can see we have each other’s back. May God continue to bless us and help us to be an example of living together in Christian community.
-Dennis L. Sanders, Lead Pastor