In yesterday’s post, I told you about a conversation I had with a friend who was having a hard time finding a good Small Church in the city he’s moved to. When I got to the part about what we, as Small Church leaders can do to help people like my friend, I told you “I love you. But this is gonna sting.”
I was right.
Yesterday’s post resulted in several comments and emails from church leaders who were upset about it. If you haven’t read the post yet, click here to read “Big and Impersonal, Or Small and Pathetic: Are Those My Only Church Options?”, then come back here.
I’m not without fault, so I’ve re-read the post to see if I blew it. (It’s happened before). But I stand by this one.
I intended the post to be strong and direct, even blunt. But not hurtful or offensive. So, today’s post – which began as a response in the comment section, but grew too big for that – is an explanation that might help clarify a few possible misunderstandings.
First, the “dumpy buildings” line which, along with our use of the word “pathetic”, seems to have caused the most distress, was my summary of a much longer conversation. My friend talked with me about several churches whose facilities were so filthy and unkempt that it was obviously more about not caring, than a lack of money or passion. More on that in a moment.
Second, my friend lives on the edge of a large city in the south, where many buildings are older and the parking lots, if they have one, are often gravel or grass, not just in churches, but in a lot of local businesses. That’s just the way things are there, so that’s not his issue. He and I both get that smaller churches won’t have new, perfectly manicured facilities – if they even have a building of their own, that is. I would never criticize hard-working, underpaid pastors for not having a pristine church property. And neither would my friend.
Third, the primary issue for him had to do with preaching that was legalistic, unbiblical, etc., which is why six of the nine problems I mentioned were about the preaching. Obviously, he wouldn’t have known about the bad preaching if he hadn’t overlooked the facilities issues and gone in for the services, anyway. His minimum standard was, as I stated, a “clean facility, friendly people and competent, grace-filled preaching.”
Fourth, he’s not looking for a place to be served, but to serve. That’s the main reason he wants to take his family to a Small Church. But if a church isn’t keeping up with basic cleanliness, friendliness and biblical preaching, he feels like anything he might pour into it would be a waste. And I agree with him.
Fifth, his criticism of “stale singing” was about a lack of joy and passion, not a lack of musicianship. He and I both understand that it’s brutally hard to find musicians to serve in a Small Church. I’m blessed with a wonderful worship team now, but for decades that was my hardest help to find.
Having a Hard Time? I’ve Been There
Twice in my ministry, I’ve been called to pastor Small Churches that were suffering under years of neglect. The most evident example of that neglect, though not the most important consequence, was their dumpy buildings.
It took years to get each of them to a place where the facility wasn’t embarrassing, even potentially hazardous. So I understand the frustration of not having enough money for some very basic upkeep, let alone improvements. At one point, we had threadbare carpet and no money to buy floor covering, so we ripped it up and lived on bare cement for a few years. But the cement was always kept clean.
At another time, the nursery was in such bad shape that we tossed the broken crib and put a donated, slightly-less-broken crib in a slightly-less-nasty room, then locked the door to the original nursery until we could afford to paint the walls and repair or replace the heater. It stayed locked for years as our Small Church struggled to pay the bills.
Things were hard, but we worked consistently on moving forward. Sure, we lost a lot of people who were looking to be an audience, or expected more than we were capable of offering. And at times I felt like “pathetic” described our facility all too well. But I never used that as an excuse, even when I felt very discouraged. We kept the usable parts of the building clean, greeted people with smiles and preached the Word with integrity. The rest came in bits and pieces. Sometimes with two steps forward and one step back.
Small and Struggling ≠ Dumpy and Pathetic
A church isn’t pathetic if it’s friendly, clean and preaching the Word with grace. If yesterday’s post left that impression, I apologize.
Bottom line? My friend, and people like him, are looking for a Small Church where they can pitch in and help. But they don’t want their gifts to be wasted. Friendly people, worshiping Jesus in a clean environment in which God’s Word is honored – that’s all my friend is looking for.
Anything less than that? I think “dumpy” and “pathetic” are the right words for it.
But, as I stated yesterday, it doesn’t have to be that way. So I’ll conclude this post with the same words I used to end yesterday’s post.
Believers need an intimate, friendly place to worship and serve. Unbelievers need to hear about Jesus. Your church can play a pivotal role in meeting each of those needs.
They want to attend our churches. But they need to know we’re here and they need us to be a healthy, friendly, vibrant place when they do show up.
With Jesus’ help, we can do it.
So what do you think? Are my friend and I still expecting too much from our fellow Small Churches?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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