We are in a world that likes to think BIG to dream BIG to act BIG. We like our plans to be all-encompassing. We like our leaders to cast broad visions. And, in the life of the church, we’re happy when the numbers are good, when our pews are full, and membership classes are busting at the seams. I’ve served three smaller churches (although one could argue that Girdwood Chapel is not “small” in Alaska standards) and at each one we’ve struggled with some identity issues as we’ve seen all the great and BIG ministries that occur in larger churches. “Why can’t we be like them?” we’ve asked. And sometimes we’ve tried to take on their programing as our own…even though we really could never have pulled it off.
And, as pastor, I have to say that occasionally my heart still sinks when some event is planned or some worship service begins or some schedule is set and I look out on those gathered round and see that it is far fewer than I had hoped for…far fewer than I had expected. It still happens.
But a couple of things have helped…
First, when I was in Kenai, Alaska, I was trying to work with the church to do some visioning for where it is that God wanted them to be over the next several years. We talked about it for a month or so. I had preached on “vision” and we had flyers posted around the church. We were going to make it into a big deal. The pastor of Soldotna United Methodist Church was going to be leading the event. Saturday came. The coffee was brewed. The table was set. Candles were lit. And we waited. A lot of time has gone by since then and I really don’t remember how many people were there, but it was bad. There were, maybe, 3 or 4. I was disappointed. I was very disappointed. But that pastor started us off in a prayer and then said, “God has gathered those of us who are ordained to be here today. He has called us to this place, around this table, to do his work.”
And we did it. We did his work. And it was good. Perhaps it could have been more satisfying if 30 people had shown up. But that’s not what happened. And, I pray, that is just how God wanted it.
Secondly, I’ve been thinking (a lot) about all that Shane Claiborne said during his time in Alaska a week or so ago. One of the things he said, and it comes through in his writings, is that ministry happens through relationships…and, particularly, through intimate relationships. Small is good. That’s why those giant churches our smaller churches are so desperately trying to be like are focusing on small group ministries. That’s where ministry really happens.
I’m reminded of this again this morning. A couple of nights ago we didn’t have the number of kids we’d like to see at Vacation Bible School. We were far from it. One adult asked me, “Is it worth it?” It’s a good question. It really is. It’s a good VBS program. I like the material. I think our staffing is good. The music and dancing is great. I had fun. I think my kids had fun. But is it worth it for so few kids? It’s a question that’s been asked in previous years as well.
Well, here’s how I look at it. Games may be a little harder in smaller groups, but the crafts are awesome. The singing may not be as loud but each kid was able to get a little more personal attention. And, if one kid comes out of it with a greater sense of who God is and how God loves them, then it’s worth it. And if I get to have fun with the whole process as well, why do we need to ask the question.
Maybe we just need to think small.