Friday, October 15, 2010
The Small Church
While it is true that a small congregation may also be a small church, it is not automatically true. What do I mean? A "small" church is one whose mission is self-serving, a parish which exists to provide for the needs of the members, and a congregation with an unspoken goal of making sure that the building and a Pastor are there to bury the last person remaining, turn out the lights, and lock the doors. Such a small church does not need to be small in numbers. I have sat in the congregation in larger churches where no one spoke to me, no one noticed me, and no one paid any attention to anything but themselves. Small churches use traditional worship and the hymnal but can also be found with praise bands and clapping hands. Small churches consume the bulk of their attention and resources to fulfill the felt needs of their own people and feel no guilt or pang of conscience that their ministry is so, well, curvatus in se.
I think that numbers may be something we must consider but those numbers may not be the primary criterion of determining which congregation has a future and which does not. Geography is important (remember the first rule of real estate -- location, location, location). Facility has something to do with it all (not so much size but visibility and the impression the building gives to those who drive by). The biggie here is attitude. Cold and selfish congregations come in all shapes and sizes. There is not a place in the country where Christians are over saturated or Lutherans have no possibility of growth and a mission beyond themselves. There are some places where Lutheran identity is confused with congregations who are LINO (Lutheran in name only) or NELINO (not even Lutheran in name only). This should be seen as an area of mission and an opportunity but too often it is not exploited. Cast theology and doctrine aside, but marketing savvy only says don't do or sell or look like everyone around you. Lutherans offering a pale imitation of what the local mega non-denominational church can provide are missing a market opportunity (speaking only here of business acumen and not of theology).
Small churches are those congregations interested in themselves... let me speak of "mission trips" here... I am not in favor of them. How is it in the interest of the mission field to bring 20-40 folks from the USA on expensive airlines to consume precious few good housing places and perform basic manual labor at a cost of hundreds of dollars an hour so they can fly home and tell everyone what a difference they made for the Lord? Who benefits most of all? Most mission trips are pricey entertainment for the folks on the trip -- a different sort of Holy Land tour. If those folks took the money raised and spent on that trip and sent it to the mission partner church, think what they might be able to do with it? For 20-40 folks going to Haiti or Kenya, the bill is something like $40-100,000. For the work done there (through Lutheran World Relief or our partner church) that money would multiply a hundred times more than the cost of folks flying half a world away to do unskilled labor (painting, cleaning up, etc). Note here I am NOT talking about those who go to the mission field and teach or perform specialized tasks for a month, six, or a year -- different story entirely!! The mission trip has become high cost spiritual entertainment in a world where people are looking to entertain their "spirits" the same way they do their bodies -- self-indulgence -- and this is a "small church" mindset in which our interests are more important than the mission as a whole.
Aside from the previous paragraph, my point is this -- small congregations are not necessarily "small churches" and large congregations can be "small churches." Lets make sure that we keep this in mind as we seek a way to deal with the growing numbers of congregations unable to afford a full-time Pastor...