I like small churches. At the same time, I am frustrated with small churches. I can admire the faithfulness of a handful of believers coming together to worship Almighty God and proclaim Christ as Savior. I can also name off the top of my head no less than a dozen churches near me which have ceased to be houses of worship so much as they are bastions of creatures of habit. As the pastor of a small church, I see the dangers of losing focus every day of my ministry. It's easy to get so lost in the problems that we miss the whole point.
Dunker Journal pointed me to this story of a small church which shut it's doors a few Sundays ago. I've driven by the Wakarusa Church of the Brethren on occasion. From the road it looks like countless other churches. On the inside it probably was as well. I know many churches who celebrate a long history of existance, but that's about it. The unstated goal seems to be keeping the doors open every Sunday, not outreach or evangelism or missions or even worship. Maybe this is what the folks at Wakarusa had come up against. Or perhaps it was just a huge struggle to pay the bills, let alone think about doing anything more than holding services and the occasional potluck. I don't know, and I'm in no position to rail against that congregation. In fact in many ways I admire their courage. It's not an easy decision. It's hard to realize that it's time to pull the plug.
My congregation usually numbers between 40 and 75 each Sunday. That's small. I'm not talking Texas-small, but small. Yet there are plenty of churches nearby which are smaller still. There are specific problems associated with being a church of this size. We cannot offer the "programs" (I hate that term) that bigger churches do. We do not have a huge staff. I am the staff, and although I continue to expand physically, I cannot do all that many other pastors can do. I am a part-time pastor, which means that my wife or myself (or both) must have other employment. As a result, many people look elsewhere for a church home because we can only give them a fraction of what they want. But realistically, size doesn't matter. It's a matter of heart.
When I first arrived here over eight years ago, much of the focus of the church was on survival. A few disputes had caused some to leave and my predecessor had just left -- another in a long line of pastors. Money was tight, attendance was down and concern drifted away from worshiping God and doing any real ministry. It wasn't easy to change the mindset around the church, but God used people and circumstances to do the improbable.
With this experience in mind, I want every local church to have the opportunity to remember the reason services are held. But at the same time if no one is willing to change out of survivalist mode, there is no reason for the church doors to remain open. The focus of the church is never to be the church itself, but upon Jesus Christ. But if we become so wed to the idea that the survival of one local church is of paramount importance to the Church Universal, we're really not worshiping God anyway.
I'll steal this quote from my Bishop's blog, which he attributes to a pastor at a church not far from Wakarusa, "Whenever memories are greater than your future, you're writing your last chapter." And I'll add my own thoughts to it: "When memories are all you have, you need to willingly close the doors."