December 14, 2021

Small Church, Big Promises

Matthew 18:19-20 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

We emphasize numbers in the world of churches. We gather and report on numerical data - How many members, average Sunday attendance, number of pledges made, total “pledge and plate” collections. Was that more or less than last year?

Inevitably, this leads to the way we evaluate congregations. Steady or rising numbers indicate a stable or growing church. Shrinking numbers mean, uh-oh, that church is struggling, or worse.

“If this trend continues, well, someone’s going to have to make a decision to keep that church or close it. Afterall, how can a church with just two or three households survive?” we mutter.

The two or three gathered in that little church wonder the same thing. They become discouraged. Their self-esteem is shattered by the reality of the numbers. The voice of their supply priest, part-time and perhaps retired from a once-vibrant calling, may echo their discouragement.

It’s not that the numbers should be ignored or a tough decision to close a church should be avoided. It’s that in the meantime, how can we best challenge the few faithful parishioners to claim the awesome power at their disposal?

It seems we should encourage mustard seed-sized churches to rely on God’s promise that nothing is impossible with faith. What if we – “the church” – teach them to seek and name the ways they, as two or three or five or ten households, are using their prayers and generosity to serve Jesus? What if their annual report included stories such as how a grandchild memorized a new table grace when he spent after school time at Grandma’s house? Or how a parishioner delivered hot meals to his next door neighbor through the pandemic?

The few gathered may be inspired to do more when they learn to tell their story through a lens that amplifies positive impact, rather than only through a microscope that finds small numbers.

Let’s take an appreciative approach, trusting in God’s big promises about any sized gathering in Jesus’ name.