I once heard the story of a small mountain church:
One bitter cold Sunday, an old farmer trudged for miles through a blizzard to reach the small mountain church he attended. No one else showed up, except the preacher. Looking around the empty pews, the clergyman leaned over the pulpit and suggested to his lone congregant that it hardly seemed worth proceeding with the service with such a low turnout.‘Perhaps we’d do better if we returned to our nice, warm homes and had a hot drink,’ he said in a tone that blatantly encouraged the old farmer to agree.
The old farmer looked at the preacher and said, ‘I’m just a simple farmer, but when I go to feed my herd, if only one cow shows up, I sure don’t let her go hungry.’ The preacher felt embarrassed and a bit guilty, so he conducted the entire service – hymns, readings, announcements and a sermon. The whole thing lasted over an hour. After the service, he said to the farmer, ‘I hope that met your needs.’ The farmer said, ‘I’m just a simple farmer, but when I go to feed my herd, if only one cow turns up, I sure don’t force her to eat everything I brought for the lot of them.’
There are a few lessons in this story.
The first lesson is that no matter how small we are, it is still worth doing what we are doing.
To anyone who has been around Christ United for more than a few years, it’s obvious that we don’t have as many people in church as we used to. Some people left when the previous pastor, Pastor Terry, retired. Then more left when I was called as your pastor 1.5 years ago. A few others have left since. We average right now 15-20 in person and 5-10 on Facebook livestream each Sunday.
So does that mean I should mimic the preacher in this story, and say to all of you who do show up on a Sunday morning, “Well, there aren’t many of us, so maybe we skip worship this week.” This way of thinking says we’re too small to do anything important or meaningful. Only big churches can really do anything in this world.
We are small, that is a fact.
And yet, there is value to what we are doing. We are mighty.
We have had new people joining the church and coming to worship. I know that the sermons I preach impact people (because I’ve personally have had people tell me this). I know people get meaning out of our Sunday worship music (again because I personally have had people tell me this). I know people get help from our congregation (because I have personally seen this in action). I know people value being a part of this congregation (I can see this all of the time).
We do A LOT.
Which brings me to the second lesson of this story: what we do should be tailored to our size.
Burnout is real and always a danger. As a small church, we can’t be all things to all people. We have to find our niche, and do it the best we can.
At our Steering Team meeting this past week, I led our group in looking at all of the programs we do, and evaluating them. One way we evaluated our programs was in whether it brought in new people to a worship service (either Sunday or Wednesday). We found 2 areas where that was happening consistently: Meditative Worship (where a total of 9 new people have shown up) and the LGBTQIA+ Bible study (which includes people who attend Christ United, as well as other churches in the area). One program that we found that didn’t bring in new people was “The Chosen” series. That program will be retooled with as yet to be announced event/s.
I do not think we are called to exhaust ourselves with doing all-the-things. I also don’t think we are called to do nothing. At Christ United we have to find the right balance of things for those inside this church, as well as things for those outside of this church. We can’t only focus on those already here, and we can’t only focus on outreach. We have to have a balance.
Evaluating what we are doing will be an ongoing process. I firmly believe that doing an evaluation every once in a while, and finding the right balance of programs, will keep Christ United here for many years to come.
All of this will enable us to continue to “welcome all people to experience the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.”
Peace and blessings,