Last week I talked about getting yourself into the door of a gym or church, and three ideas to think about when resolving to do so. This post is a follow-up to that one, and here I am thinking about ideas to consider when you are attending a bit more regularly. You are beyond just getting in the door, but are now a bit more comfortable with the surroundings: you know your machines, where to stretch, which piece of cardio equipment you use (or avoid), and have a general idea of who shows up at what time; in the church you have found out who does what, who sits where, who to talk to (and who to avoid), and have a sense of the church's mission.
My hope is that you have found a church that has authentic worship, small groups, and mission/ministries in the community or for the community that you can be involved with. Unfortunately many smaller towns have churches that are ... well ... struggling. I am going to be speaking about those small churches that may seem to have older congregations and fewer ministries. In fact, if you are just starting to attend a church you may be at the bigger one's with a wood pallet background and track lighting, but I want to encourage you to consider the churches I am talking about in this blog post.
These churches are like small gyms. They have all the right equipment, but some of it may be outdated. It still works, but might need some slight adjusting to bring about the results they were bringing and producing in the past. I like smaller gyms because I don't feel like I am getting swallowed up by all the options and all the people I do not know - or need to make small talk with!
So I am going to give you a "fly on the wall" view into what many churches are going through so that you can understand how to be a help.
I am going to overgeneralize here, and some of this is "tongue-and-cheek," meaning that I am over-exaggerating to make a point.
Most of the small churches you may visit or that are in your area are concerned about programs and the building. The building will have some issues, there will be outdated materials, there will be classrooms that haven't been used, etc etc. There will be a piano/organist, perhaps a couple to a few people in a choir, maybe someone that plays guitar, old hymn books, older people dressed in suits or nice clothes (Sunday best), pews and not chairs, and one or two grandchildren running around getting an icy stare or two. There will be one or two people that are "in charge" and he/she or they are not the pastor.
No doubt for a few years (or more) the conversations are revolving around keeping the one program alive that seems to reach people (and may only be reaching a handful), keeping people on the committees - particularly the trustees - and how there are fewer and fewer people, the people that come don't stay, and there may be talk about closing the church down during the winter to save money.
Okay, I have painted a pretty bleak picture here haven't I? The truth is that what I wrote above will not be in every church, nor will everything I wrote about be in one particular church. But most of the small rural churches will be facing those issues at some point. So what does this have to do with you? Why would you go to a church that is facing these problems?
God might have it in His plans for that church to use you to bring the momentum for revitalization. You will bring fresh perspectives, ideas, and energy. And guess what!? It wont' be received well - at first. Relationships run two ways - you need to learn about the people in the church, but the people in the church need to also learn about you. Understand here, I am not advocating for a way for you to come into a church an manipulate things in order to achieve some kind of legacy. What I am doing is letting you know that God has a purpose for you that you may not have ever considered before, especially if you are seeking to understand more about Him and all this seems like the "typical church issue" stuff you here about.
But you are needed.
Remember, we are all on a journey, and your part in this journey might to be run up the road a bit and catch up to some folks that might be too focused on how they are walking and how much their feet hurt, rather than on the people they are walking with.
Learning as they go
Like I said in the previous post, you will be learning as you go. Many of these churches are doing the same. At one time in its history, the particular church you might be attending (or thinking about) was making disciples. It was a full church. Now, many of the people in that church are thinking about those times and trying to figure out how to get there again, but they don't know how.
This is where you come in.
But no doubt you are thinking, "I don't know what to do! I'm not a pastor or churchy person!" But you do have needs, and you can tell the church that they have the ability to meet a need you have, and others in that community might need the same things. What is it? Do you wish to learn? Ask them if they have a Bible Study or group that discusses Biblical things. Are you struggling with something? Find someone in the church that you seem to be getting along with and ask them to meet at a local diner and start having discussions with them. Tell them why you are meeting with them and if the conversation goes well, plan to meet regularly.
This will inject new life into the church, and it will begin a journey into discipleship once again in that church.
I'm telling you, it doesn't have to be complicated. Just allow God's Spirit to move. Learn to trust those things that seem to be pressing on you, on your spirit - those things that make you slightly nervous and stupid for thinking about it. It might be God telling you to step out because He has something in mind.
All churches have hope - hope that someone will come along to help them, hope that something will kick-start the 'fire' in that church again. If you have found a place where you think you might be cared for ... then start thinking about how you can care for the people there too. Again, they will likely resist at first, but there are people there who will appreciate who you are and welcome you into "their" church.
You don't know it now, but you are an answer to someone's prayer in that church.
When we learn to trust in God, amazing things begin to happen. But those things don't happen overnight. It will take months. That's right. MONTHS. It's just like starting to go to the gym to get healthier - it takes months. It is the same with your spiritual life. You may be spiritually unfit right now. But you will be fit in a few months. In a few days you'll start to feel different, in a few months you will start being different. Imagine what a few years will bring, and what a few years could bring that church God is calling you to.
Some "weekly" musings from Pastor Dave as he sits on his porch and drinks coffee, thinking about theology and lifting heavy weights. For gymsharks, there is something called "Flex Fridays," where we vainly put up photos of ourselves flexing. So this blog is my attempt to flex my theological muscles through reflection ... get it?