If I had a £1 for every time someone asked me how many people we have in our church congregation I’d be boarding a flight to the Tropics about now; but alas I’m here, thinking about whether bigger is better, or whether we’ve missed a trick.
Full Life Church has been going for over ten years now, and within that time we’ve ranged in size from a handful of families, to over a hundred people and back down again. This has been for a number of reasons including various venue changes, the stepping down of the original pastor and the appointment of a new one, people emigrating, moving areas or going to a church closer to where they live, and sadly, people leaving because they perhaps feel the church hasn’t quite met their needs at a particular time. Unfortunately, we, like every other church on the planet, are far from perfect, and sometimes miss the mark. However, we are in the midst of a new season, and a new way of thinking which is already proving fruitful. I’d like to share a little bit of what we’ve been doing with you to encourage small churches and leaders in similar situations.
With our eyes fixed firmly on God, and prayerfully considering all decisions and ministries, we are learning to recognize and act upon the innate strengths of a smaller congregation. We are figuring out ways to be effective in our community without having a congregation of a couple of hundred. We are building solid foundations, are rooted in the Word of God, and are resting in the fact that God is with us, in us and working through us regardless of how many bums are on seats on a Sunday morning. We realize that Sunday mornings are merely a snippet of our church, and that each and every member has their own ‘front line’ ministry outside of the confinements of our church venue and services, be that work, toddler groups, WI meetings, craft clubs, school or uni. There is always opportunity to take our faith beyond Sunday mornings and be the hands and feet of Jesus wherever we are, whatever we’re doing and whoever we’re with. For me personally, one of the benefits of being small is that we operate as a family. We know each other well, we are real with each other, we truly love each other, we hurt when one of our members is hurting, we rejoice when someone has a success, and really importantly we recognize and utilize each others giftings and assets. Each person has a role and purpose within the church. Without them we couldn’t function as effectively as we do, and when they’re not around we miss them.
We have consciously exercised wisdom when it comes to organizing outreach events and ministries, choosing things which are simple to organize, don’t require much manpower, that are sustainable and going to appeal to the community we serve. We’ve collaborated with other organisations (such as Contact the Elderly and Creation Station) and churches to minimize pressure on ourselves, yet still have maximum effect in our community. We do a few ministries really well, which leaves us time to meet other important needs, such as delivering a meal to someone who has just had a baby, leaving little chocolate treats with a scripture for the Whist and Dominoes club, or spending one on one time with someone who just needs to talk things through and pray. We have been encouraged that, despite having only 30 or 40 people in the service, the audio links posted online on the website and facebook page, mean the sermons have a far, far wider reach and we are so joyfully surprised to hear that people across UK and further afield have had a listen. I find it mind-blowing that the internet can be and is such a vital ministry tool. These days it’s imperative to have a good website and social media presence.
Reading this back, I’m starting to think it could be interpreted as being a little arrogant, which really is not what I intended. We still have a long way to go, and I’m not for a second suggesting this is a perfect model for a church. I am however, excited that after what seemed like an eternity in the wilderness, as a body of people we have finally accepted that instead of wrestling to grow the church numerically ourselves, we simply have to continue to be an outwards looking church, being obedient to God’s direction, seeking to show the practical love of Jesus at any given opportunity, and, very importantly, resting in the fact that God will grow His church and draw people in, in His perfect timing. Encouragingly, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are in His will for us, we are blessed in every sense of the word, and as a body of Christians we want the community we serve to experience the same love, blessing and acceptance we have found in Jesus regardless of whether they consider themselves a member of our congregation or not.
So next time I’m asked how many people we have in our congregation, I might suggest that a better question might be along the lines of,” how do you empower your congregation, and utilize their gifts, to be fruitful and effective in your community irrespective of your size?”