Monday, July 4, 2011

Small Churches

Although the crowds at Cobourg's Waterfront Festival might make you forget it for a day or two, Cobourg is actually a small town. In fact, every town or village in Northumberland County is small. Like the church I pastor.

Most of us are not impressed with small, unless it's our cell phones we're talking about. If we had a choice, we're rather shop at Yorkdale or even the Oshawa Centre than Northumberland Mall. A 3,000 square foot house on ten acres seems more impressive than a 1200 square foot house on a city-sized lot. And, unfortunately for the earth, most of us prefer to drive trucks or SUVs than Chevy Cruzes or Honda Civics.

My church is small. I think this is frustrating, sometimes, for Grace Church's members. I hear things like, "if Grace was big we could have a bunch of more programs, a renovated sanctuary, a real pipe organ, and a parsonage on the lake for the pastor." Sometimes it is frustrating for me, too--and I'm not even thinking of that parsonage. I'd love to have a full-time youth leader instead of a half-time leader, a full-time professional musician and a second pastor on staff, and plenty of people to do drama and volunteer and play different instruments every Sunday.

From God's perspective, though, size isn't everything. In fact, God has a soft spot for small. God runs his kingdom on a "little David and big Goliath" economy. His heroes are people of little courage, like Jonah; foreigners of little account, like Ruth; and just plain little people like Zacchaeus. God chose Israel to tell the world about his grace--a people about as small and insignificant as you could find in the ancient world. Jesus made do with just twelve disciples. The parable of the mustard seed teaches us that God's kingdom is like the smallest seed, which will nevertheless grow--not into a huge tree--but at least a large bush. Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt 5:5). And while the apostle Paul wasn't immune to the drawing power of big cities like Rome and Ephesus, he spent most of his time working with little churches in middling towns with funny names like Lystra, Derbe and Berea; Philippi, Perga and Iconium. Several times he even greets churches so small that they meet in homes.

Small can be frustrating. But if you go to one of the small churches in Northumberland County, your likely to find a group of people who keep track of each others' birthdays and anniversaries, who care for each other's children, and who continue visiting each other even if when move into a nursing home or hospital. Youth groups in small churches are for making life-long friends, and music in small churches is sung with fervor rather than played by a band as entertainment. Small churches are communities where, even if you can't quite remember everyone's name, you know everyone loves you, and keeps an eye out for you.

In fact, in a lot of ways, small churches are like Cobourg or Port Hope or Brighton. It's nice to know that a big city is just down the road for those times you just can't do without the symphony or the Blue Jays, or even Yorkdale, I guess. But do you really want to live there?

And that's why I'd rather go to a small church too. After all, Jesus also said that, "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." And if he is there, when it comes to church, you know the main thing has already happened.

1 comment:

  1. This is encouraging! Thank you, John. The elders and deacons of Telkwa CRC have been working through _Small, Strong Congregations_ by Kennon L. Callahan, who affirms God's ability to work in and through small congregations, where people are often attracted to their warm, welcoming community. May God continue blessing and using you and the people of Cobourg! ~Stan


What do you think?