We’re always trying to figure out how to “do church better.” We have, after all, communities of people surrounding us many of whom have little to no connection to a church (other than, maybe, “oh, I attended VBS there as a kid!”). My shelf is filled with books and conference notes that talk about visions, pipelines, revitalizations, etc., ad nauseum.
Most of these are written by or led by men who pastor large churches, run large organizations, or live in large communities. Maybe, at some point, they pastored a tiny church in a small or rural community, but those days are long in the past.
This is not to criticize them or their ministries. The great majority of them are faithful men who love Jesus and whom God uses to make a Kingdom impact. But, as a small church, small community pastor, there seems to be a disconnect between what they suggest and what can be implemented and successful in such a setting as mine.
Recently, however, I picked up a copy of Small Church Essentials by Karl Vaters, and it has been a breath of fresh air. He’s not a guy who started in a small church but has been in a larger church / organization for the last two decades. No, he’s a guy who has pretty much always been small church. And he, too, has been frustrated by the calls to cast some vision, implement this paradigm, and follow that pipeline.
Perhaps the piece of advice that I have found that resonates the most is: Discover what your church does well and focus your energy on doing that.
Though we all serve a God of unlimited resources and power, God does not grant each church unlimited pools of money, people, time, or gifts. And this reality can appear even more prominent in small churches that struggle week in and week out. So, we must wisely steward what we have.
Ever wonder why when you read the list of spiritual gifts in Romans and 1 Corinthians, they don’t exactly match up? God, in his infinite wisdom, knows better than us the needs of each church and community. Perhaps, then, he gives different gifts to one church over another because what works in Rome won’t work in Corinth and vice versa. Instead of seeking everything the other has, we should be faithful with what God has given us in our time and place.
Some examples that Vaters provides in his book include:
- If your church is small enough, and great at fellowship and teaching, then maybe instead of having a traditionally ordered main service and small groups at another time, you treat your main “service” like a small group. Arrange the chairs in a circle, sing together, pray for each other, and then open up Scripture, read it, and dialogue together instead of having a typical sermon.
- If your church is good at reaching the de-churched, or formerly-churched, then put most of your energy into reaching them, helping them re-connect and get spiritually healthy, and then send them out to do ministry.
- If your church is good at children and family ministry, then make sure your facilities scream “kid friendly.” Hang banners and balloons. Deck out the main lobby and hallways with artwork from the kids. Do weekly basketball for kids and backpack ministries.
- If your church is good at preaching and teaching, then rearrange the order of service to make it one of the first things you do instead of one of the last, where visitors have already formed a first, second, and third opinion based on your announcements, music, and greeting.
This is one of the great things about church—what Francis Schaeffer referred to as “form and freedom.” There are certain elements essential to a church—the Bible, prayer, communion, fellowship, praise, and mission. But the Bible gives no sacred “order of service.” There are no specified ways to design and decorate a church building (or even a requirement to have a church building). There is no demand for a use of a pulpit over a chair or a table. There is no requirement that every church focus on kids ministry, Sunday School, or mom’s night out.
But God has brought us together as groups of Jesus-loving people, placed in communities with different spiritual, physical, and relational needs. So, discover what you do well in your limited resources to impact your community for Jesus. Then make that your main thing and keep doing it well.
We don’t need the latest trends, programs, or ministries. We don’t need the most well-crafted vision statements. We need men and women who love Jesus, love each other, and love their communities being as faithful as they can.