7/15/2012

Small churches have a big Jesus


We hear a lot about how churches have low attendance these days. Sometimes we look at our own pews and count the empty seats. Frankly, it's easy for small churches to become discouraged. We aren't megachurches that draw people in by the thousands. Our youth group may be the 60-year-young Sunday School class. We look at all the things that we don't have and shake our heads.

What we fail to see is all the things that we do have to offer. Jesus didn't start out with a megachurch. He didn't have a big youth group that was all decked out in matching T-shirts or a fleet of donkeys to take them places.

Instead, Jesus started his ministry as One and then began calling people to him, He finally wound up with a core group of 12 people. For the most part, these were 'salt of the earth' type folks. They didn't have any money and chances are pretty good that they were short on worldly experience.

But, they saw something was different about Jesus and had the faith to follow Him. There were some rocky moments but eventually they got it right. When the group was overwhelmed Jesus had them focus on Him and not on what they didn't have. The stories of the loaves and the fishes give evidence to this.

When we look at what we don't have, then that's all we see. We don't feel that we have anything to offer as a small church, so we stop reaching out to people who are beyond the walls. We assume that people aren't seeking so we forget to find those who are. Pretty soon, we're in a vicious cycle that only Jesus can break.

The truth is that we have something that people want. We have Jesus and He has given us gifts and graces that can't be found anywhere else. We, at this church, have gifts that we can regularly give back to Jesus. This is the time to celebrate what we have been given and use the gifts to support each other and be excited about our faith.

The Jesus that we have is so powerful that people are looking for Him. People are looking for our combination of faith and action. Our job is to believe in our faith enough to live it and draw people to us.

People are seeking, we have to have the courage to follow Jesus to find them. Sometimes Jesus will put people directly into our lives and other times we have to work at little harder at finding others who seek Him.

Two things have happened in my life recently that bear this theory out. One takes a little work and the other was a person that God put directly in my path.

The first is about a letter to the editor in our local paper. It was clearly from a person who is looking for a place that will help fill their spiritual needs. The writer talked about moving to our area to be closer to her children.

According to the letter, she and her husband had visited “seven” churches but had yet to feel welcome in any of them as an older couple. The letter ended by asking “Is there somebody out there that knows some good churches that we can possibly go to because we don't seem to have found them?”
Finding this person may take some work. Indeed, it can even be argued that we may never find this exact person. While that may or may not be true the story does tell us that people are looking and with that, we have a beginning that we can work with.

The second thing that happened caught me totally off guard. I had written out some postcards to encourage a few people to come to a certain worship service. The bookstore had only one type of postcard in the quantity that I wanted and these just happened to be the cross and flame logo of the United Methodist Church.

With pen in hand I diligently filled out every postcard. I addressed each one and got them ready to mail except for one thing. I didn't have enough postcard stamps and that meant going to the post office. So, while muttering under my breath about the joys of summertime in the south I headed to the buy the stamps.

Everything was routine at the post office. I stood in line, bought my stamps and then stepped aside to adhere them. That's when it happened. A gentleman standing near me had seen the United Methodist Church logo and asked if he could talk with me about my faith and about salvation. He had heard of it, had studied up on different denominations but had not had the opportunity to talk with someone with the United Methodist Church – until now.

We stood there chatting for several minutes about “light” faith topics such as transubstantiation, Calvinism, different types of Baptism, the Eucharist and about the United Methodist view of Salvation.

I am still not sure which to be more shocked about. That someone was seeking and unable to find answers? Or, that no one had ever talked with him about God and about our denomination.

I spoke with a friend about this later that day. He made an off-handed comment that has stayed with me. He said that maybe big churches feel that they offer everything, that small churches feel that we don't have much to offer and that maybe the combination means that people are falling through the cracks.

Clearly people seeking. Clearly people are falling through the cracks. Clearly we have opportunities to find each other. The truth is that smaller churches like ours can feel that we don't have much to offer. So, let's take a few minutes to look at what we do have.

  1. Building – We have already talked about how some congregations worldwide would be glad to have a safe structure in which to worship.
  2. Our faith – Small churches are known to overcome the odds because of a strong faith in Jesus Christ.
  3. The ability to get things done relatively quickly. If someone needs help or if something is broken we don't have to go through numerous committees to resolve the situation. A quick discussion after worship is generally all that it takes.
  4. Friendliness – our congregation is friendly and open to others.
  5. Comfort-ability – We have plenty of open space in the sanctuary where someone can come in, get comfortable and be ready to worship.
  6. Willingness to try new experiences.
These are a few things that I have noticed. What else does our church have going for us that we can offer?

We can't use our gifts if we don't recognize what they are. People are looking for answers and seeking out places where they can feel comfortable to worship. Our job is to recognize our gifts so that we can be ready to use them as we find people who need them.

Let us pray.

Today's sermon was based on Matthew7: 7.

If you are in the Athens, Tennessee area and would like to visit our small church, then email me for directions. We would be glad to have you join us for Sunday morning worship services at 9:30 am. The people are friendly and welcoming. You may just feel right at home.

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