Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Small Church Manifesto

This week (through Rev. Dulce's blog) I read this offering from dailypress.com:
Pastor Offers Up a Small-Church Manifesto.

I just had to respond.

Enough already, indeed.

1. Is it your goal to be mentioned by the media or discussed in religious circles? If it is, then do something newsworthy. Don't just sit on your hands and whine that you're not mentioned. Either do something noteworthy, or enjoy your place in the Kingdom. Someone famous once said "The last shall be first and the first shall be last..."

2. Is someone out there claiming that "small churches aren't church?" If so, they're not claiming it loudly enough, because I've never heard it. In fact, here in West Ohio, I've heard something that sounds like, "We recognize that lots of our small churches are struggling, so we are working hard to help them make (or continue making) disciples for Jesus Christ.

3. You won't buy any materials from big churches. Fine. But you do realize that these "big churches" are making their materials available simply because they have found something that works and they want to share it with other churches. And if you listen to the pastors (who you so flippantly brush off), they'll tell you that you have to fit their material to your own situation. Yes, it takes work. It's not simply one-size fits all. So anyway, if you aren't buying anything developed by a big church, whose stuff are you using? Are you developing your own? I'm sure that doesn't cut into the time you're spending with your flock, now is it?

4. So your sanctuary "isn't suited for 'today's contemporary worship services'" is it? Suddenly you're also the expert in what "today's contemporary worship service" looks like?! Guess what: it looks different everywhere. And not every "contemporary worship service" involves jumping around. In fact, much of it is quiet and allows a time and place to meditate and commune with God. Which can be done in a pew. (Not taking into account that pews aren't comfortable, they don't allow multiple-use of the space, and they often promote a performer/audience worship style that frankly I'm not comfortable with).

5. Who ever claimed the inferiority of pastors who haven't led trips to the Holy Land or to AIDS-ravaged Africa (I can only suppose you, like many other jealous types, are taking your potshots at Rick Warren here - at least if you're going to call him out, don't be a chicken - go ahead and call him by name), or use a lapel mic or wear casual clothing and preach from a stool?

For many, a trip to the Holy Land has been an eye-opening trip that has enhanced and awakened a spiritual life. I've never been, so I can't say first hand. I'm glad that there are some who have the gifts to help them plan such trips, because I don't, and many people have profited spiritually because of such trips.

As for AIDS-ravaged villages, what are you doing about them? Or is it "someone else's" problem? Thank God for Rick and Kay Warren and what they are doing about AIDS in Africa (and a whole lot more). Thank God for Michael Slaughter and Ginghamsburg Church's Sudan Project. It's easy to grumble that "they have money so they can do these things" and then sit and do nothing. When we do that, Satan wins.

As for lapel mics, I've found that they aren't that hard to figure out. And ask the congregation I serve; my delivery has improved greatly since I got one. If you can't figure it out, find someone who can. Chances are, anyone under the age of 35 will be able to figure it out. If you don't have anyone in your congregation that fits that description, well then, we've found your new mission field haven't we?

6. It's plain to see that you don't like video clips. Guess what: Jesus used the media of his day to tell stories. I guess he wasn't "preaching" but was leading a "story telling festival" then. We learn different ways. Simply hearing is one of the least effective means of getting someone to retain information. Seeing is more effective (and doing is more effective still).

7. I have to quote this one. "We will no longer use any statistics produced by religious research groups that are paid for by our denominational contributions and then used to predict our extinction." So, how do you evaluate your effectiveness? Do you have a better means than the research groups? Do tell, so that the rest of us can use these tools as well. And what do you tell the churches who have closed, whose "extinction" might have been prevented had they followed the plans set forth by "religious research groups"?

8. Is it a problem that large churches require large means of transportation? You'd be screaming louder if you went to a conference and couldn't park anywhere because every member of that large church contengent drove themselves. As for the Krispy Kreme comment, maybe they are actually watching what they put into their bodies (I don't have any room to talk on this point, because although I work out and burn it all off, I pretty much eat whatever I want).

And what brings you to the conclusion that large churches travel in buses because their members are all strangers to one another? Shoddy logic here, my friend. Of course, there are many people in large churches, and the chances of knowing everyone are extremely slim, and perhaps they could get to know one another on a bus trip. But then again, that's why successful large churches have small groups. Every person doesn't have to know every other person.

9. I'm glad that you sent mosquito nets to Africa. Nobody should take anything away from your church (or any other church, small or large) who reaches out to strangers with their hard-earned funds. You've changed someone's life, and that's awesome. But realize that big numbers with big momentum can change the world! Many, many lives can be changed, and many, many people reached for Jesus Christ.

10. Have your leaders really "forgotten you?" Have you talked to your District Superintendent about this? And did your Bishop ever really get lost on the way to your church. Oh, I get it, you're talking rhetorically. And I bet most of your article is simply rhetoric. You could have said it better by simply saying this:

Small, traditional churches (and not simply mega-churches) are filling vital needs in disciple-making and fulfilling the Great Commission.

Wouldn't that have been less divisive than what you wrote? Are you that angry at large churches? Is it because you aren't pastoring in one of them? Do you consider your "over $50,000 (in 1980s money)" as well-spent, or do you feel you threw it away because now you are serving Jesus Christ in a small church?

11. You are certainly meeting a need (with regard to your prayer request time). By your use of statistics, you are meeting the need of 1/2 of the people who attend your church. 20 people. Are there any other needs outside the walls of your building? Are there people who need to know the saving love of Jesus Christ - perhaps some young people who have been burned by the church or have no church background whatsoever? Or maybe single moms? You get the picture. Who are you striving to reach?

Kokomo Indiana's Grace UMC whose web site I was looking at yesterday (in Pastor Chris's blog) posed the question: What group of people will we want to focus upon to develop/design ministry in order to reach for God through (our church) over the next ten years? I challenge you to ask the same in your congregation.

Perhaps the answer will surprise you (maybe not, who knows?). And just maybe someone else has done something along those lines - it might even be a mega-church whose materials might (gasp) help you.

I didn't set out to attack the author of this article so heavily, especially since I don't even know who she or he is (the name listed at the end of the article is only a last name, and it doesn't match up with the (clearly outdated) web site out there). Correction: I found the pastor's name on a history page - which helps me understand that the church's web site is at least 7 years out of date. However, when I read his "manifesto" I felt compelled to respond. Too many have allowed their "small church" status to cloud their eyes to the powerful things God is doing elsewhere... and to the powerful things that God could be doing through them.

The bottom line is that every church should be making disciples for Jesus Christ. We should all be seeing baptisms and people joining through confession of faith. We should all be reaching out to our communities and to the world with Jesus' love (in practical, tangible ways). All of us should be gathering in small groups to "do life together" and to study scripture. All of us who are UMC should be paying our full Apportionment. That's the bottom line. If you are, congratulations! But if you aren't, then don't complain and attack those who are.


Rev. Dulce said...

I was taken back by the author's sense of inferiority, also. My DS recently brought all of our statistics to a meeting and passed them out to everyone. This meant that my professions of faith and worship attendance were compared to everyone elses. Now it didn't bother me because as chance (work) would have it, I had more professions of faith last year than many of the other churches. (Plus, my church had paid 100% of their apportionments.) Some people look at these statistics by comparing numbers to numbers but I looked at percentages. My worship attendance increased by 10% last year. Was it as high as the bigger churches? No, not numerically but by percentage it was.

I did have a conversation with a DS recently that did say, "That since we are such a mobile society, it doesn't make sense to have a UM church every five miles if they aren't fruitful." The key word in that statement is fruitful.

One problem that I see with using mega-church literature is that many small churches think that they can just take it and plug it in at their church and it will show results. Then they are unhappy when it doesn't. What works for Willow Bend, probably won't work for deep East Texas.

I guess what this very long comment is getting at, is that we are not supposed to compare ourselves to each other. We are supposed to be joyful that mega-churches are bringing in thousands to the faith and we are supposed to Thank God that we are being faithful to God's call.

The Thief said...

Well said, Rev. Dulce.

I feel like I need to also offer an addendum - I found out today about small church pastors who were never even introduced to the church by the DS - that just doesn't happen in large churches and it's wrong. But that was a sin of that particular DS, and if it is true with others, let's do something about it.

You're right on the money with mega-church literature. To make it work for our church, we have to adapt it. That would be true if, say, Willow Creek (Chicago) was to use something developed by Saddleback (California).

Rev. Dulce said...

Willow Creek, not Willow Bend....I'm such an idiot sometimes.

I wasn't introduced to my church until after my appointment. I don't think that it is uncommon. My DS has over 100 churches in his district. He tries to treat everyone the same but sometimes that is impossible.

The Thief said...

I wasn't introduced until my appointment (well, the DS told me that I'd be blackballed if I didn't take that appointment, but that's another story), but at least the DS showed up for the conversation.

And I know about lots of churches in a district - if I counted right, we have 171 in ours.