I have two questions that I love to ask people in small church settings. The first has to do with the strength of their church. Always I get the same answer back. The strength of the small church is relationships. If you have been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you will have heard that before.
The second question is really the reverse of the first one. What is the greatest frustration that you have serving in your church?
Almost always I get an answer back that has something to do with a lack of resources.
For the past couple of weeks I have been answering the questions that I am most often asked.
Two weeks ago I answered the question: How large is a small church?
Last week I tackled the question: How can a small church consisting mostly of seniors attract young families?
In this blog I will try to answer a third question:
How does a small church with limited people, limited finances, limited facilities and limited gift carry out effective ministry?
Realize that the spiritual resources are the same for all churches
When evaluating the resources that are available to a church it is easy to forget the lesson that Elisha taught to his servant when the nation was under attack. In 2 Kings 6 Israel found herself in the middle of a war with the country of Aram. Israel had the advantage of having Elisha on their side. He was able to provide Israel with up-to-date information on the whereabouts of the enemy army.
Finally the Aramean king became fed up and decided to take Elisha into custody. Reports said that Elisha was in Dothan and so the king sent an entire army out to capture him.
When Elisha’s servant took an early morning stroll, he was confronted by a powerful Aramean army surrounding the city and ready to make war.
In shear panic he rushed back to Elisha and asked the question that I’m sure we all would have asked if we had been there.
“What shall we do?”
Elisha turned to him and put everything into perspective. He reminded his servant that there were more fighting for them than there were fighting against them. He then asked God to open his servant’s eyes so that he could see the supernatural forces that were on their side.
We all need our eyes open every now and then. We need to be reminded that there is a spiritual realm all around us and that in that spiritual realm there are forces that the natural world cannot see.
Large churches do not have a monopoly on those spiritual resources. They are available to all churches whatever their size.
When a church is tabulating its resources, it needs to make sure that it uses more than just its physical eyes. There is a whole spiritual dynamic that plays a part in church life. Don’t miss it!!!
Make sure that you are looking in the right direction
Too often small churches spend a lot of time and energy looking in the wrong direction. They focus on what they don’t have rather than on what they do have.
This past week the Montreal Canadiens and the Nashville Predators pulled off one of the biggest trades in hockey history. From what I heard this was not a popular trade in Montreal. P.K. Subban was a very popular player with the fans there and they were not happy.
If I were the Montreal General Manager who made the trade, I might want to take my holidays about now. Just get out of town until feelings cooled down a bit.
In the midst of all the talk about the trade though, I did hear one comment that caught my attention. Someone said that people needed to concentrate on what was coming back through the door and not just on what was leaving.
What this person was saying was that Montreal fans had to focus on what they had and not on what they didn’t have.
That is wise advice for any church.
Concentrating on what it doesn’t have will never help a church reach its goals.
In a small church it is so easy to outline the negatives.
Every small church lacks funds. Every small church lacks people. Every small church is restricted by its facilities. Every small church could use more of certain gifts.
An interesting exercise for a small church is to hold a brainstorming session in which people can shout out the strengths of their church. Don’t accept anything negative. This is a time to talk about the positives.
When you have a list of twenty or twenty-five items, realize that those are the things that you do have as a church. How does the church put those strengths to use in impacting the community and building disciples? That is the question that the church needs to ask.
Develop partnerships with other under-resourced churches
Every small church battles with a lack of necessary resources. It is one of the realities of life in small churches.
Small church “A” lacks resources and is limited in what it can do because of that fact.
Small church “B”, possibly located right in the same community” also suffers from a lack of resources and has to deal with that fact.
Small church “C” also has a lack of resources which like the other two limits its potential.
What would happen if all three churches looked for ways in which they could share their resources?
I’m not suggesting that these churches should merge. There are probably theological and practical reasons a merger wouldn’t work.
But it is a fact of 21st century church life that denominational affiliation means almost nothing to people today when it comes to choosing a church. Most people today neither understand nor care about the differences in churches.
If that is the case doesn’t it make sense that churches should be looking at ways that they can work together.
Meeting the challenge
When I ask churches to share their greatest frustration, about 95% of the time they answer by outlining something that they lack.
Those frustrations are real. I don’t want to make light of them. A lack of resources can present problems that are not always easy to overcome.
I do believe this however.
God has given your church all that it needs to do what he wants you to do at this point in your history.
Lack of resources isn’t the problem. Failure to use effectively the resources you have is more likely where the problem lies.
So be creative.
Be open to new ways of making the most use of the resources that you have.
Thanks Ron! This is a great lesson/perspective for small churches and really for everyone! We all struggle at times to see past what we don’t have (and think we should have). I love the story of Elisha and his servant!