When my husband and I were dating, a friend of ours was assigned to pastor a tiny church in the mountains of East Tennessee which was about 45 minutes away from the college we were attending. Our friend asked us if we would be willing to help and he quickly put us to work. The one-room church held 30 people comfortably though we quickly found out you could cram even more people inside if necessary. When I say this was a one-room church, I mean it was a one-room church. The outhouse was just a short distance away. Despite all of this, the little church began to grow and by the end of the school year, plans were being made to enlarge the building and make improvements.
Both my husband and I were attending different schools the next year but my husband kept in touch with our pastor friend. One day, shortly after we had married and were living back in the area, we decided to go visit our friend. I will never forget what we saw.
The pastor was a bricklayer by trade. We found him all alone laying brick. During the time we were there, members of the congregation stopped by to encourage him and greet us but not one person offered to help. I remember our friend sadly telling us that he had no end of encouragers but had no workers. He had offered to teach people how to do the job but had no takers so he had no choice but to do it on his own. There were no buildings available in this tiny community and therefore if they wanted to grow, they would have to build. The congregation talked about growth but they were not willing to put forth the effort and it was only a matter of time before the little church was no more.
Over the past few days, I have been thinking about how easy it is to be critical of the shortcomings of the local church. It is true that local congregations, even the strongest and most effective ones are plagued by problems. Why? Because they are made up with people and we all know how difficult and messed up people, including ourselves, can be. We cannot simply sit back and complain about the problems. We cannot simply sit back and say that things need to change. We need to be a part of the solution.
For too long congregations have sat within their four walls waiting for the world to come to them. It doesn't work like that, folks. Yes, there are "seekers" who will come to a church looking for something or Christians who are looking for a new church home such as my husband and myself but that is one of the least effective ways to spread the Gospel and grow a church that can make a difference in the community. We have to get up out of our seat, open the church door and go out into the world.
Before we criticize our local church for what it is or is not doing, we need to ask ourselves the question, "What am I doing?"
So true! Ministers in small churches are more thinly spread than many realise, as your story demonstrates quite perfectly.
I think that in most churches you will only be welcomed if you come along with a reasonable idea for a project, small group, etc., and are prepared to 'own' it to some extent. Or indeed, it can be even better to just support the existing events wherever you can just by going along, because all too often, things end up cancelled or rescheduled due to poor attendance after a someone else took the time to organise everything. If for some reason you are not having much success getting involved at church - or your project only happens for part of the year - you can equally well just get involved in small volunteering activities, such as those run by workplaces, sports clubs, schools: there's nearly always going to be a chance to talk about your faith, anyway, or to meet like-minded Christians from other churches ... and if not, at least you have done something worthwhile.
... and then, of course, there is always CB
This has been on my mind too these past few days. Yes, my church only has the meeting house doors open twice a week but the outreach , the free English classes., the food bank, the talking to the drunk teens in the village square every Friday night, these are things that those who only attend on a Sunday morning refuse to see for they are unwilling to help yet willing to condemn.
We have a saying in my part of the world "Put up or shut up". Which means that fb you are not willing to roll your sleeves up you have no right to condemn.