I’ve been brought up, from a ministry standpoint, to monitor numbers. Numbers relating to budgets, cost of things, how many people attend a worship service on a given Sunday, and any number of categories that can be measured. Often times the size of something is related to its importance, and this can be especially true when considering churches.
Most of the conferences I’ve attended through the years are led by pastors who are serving large churches, presumably so because success is determined by how many people are involved in their places of worship. Sometimes it is difficult to translate the material from someone who is serving a ‘mega-church’ to a smaller demographic. The desire on the part of most pastors is to see their churches grow numerically, but the reality is that the vast majority of congregations do not increase in this way. There is a cycle of death, illness, and birth that continues, and about 80% of American congregations deal with these realities and how to address financial and personal challenges which emerge as a result.
So, it was encouraging to me to locate Sid Salter’s article which deals with a small church in Mississippi. Most churches in MS are small, and the reality is that most churches across the country run about 100 or less. These kinds of churches and those slightly larger than that can struggle with their own importance as it relates to the Kingdom of God. You don’t hear too many ‘success’ stories about congregations of a smaller nature.
What Salter rightly points out, in an admittedly unique situation, is that the impact of a church cannot always be measured by its numerical size. The corollary of big churches making big impacts and small churches making small impacts doesn’t measure up, and the other way of looking at this is that we don’t know who is part of the local family of God. The influence of a Sunday School teacher or missions leader upon a child cannot be overstated, and who knows what will become of the investment that is made in the lives of our people?
I wrestle with numbers too, but am gratified to take a group of children to a children’s retreat to get closer to God and then to wonder whether the seeds of the gospel will take root and grow. As a pastor of a church literally on the doorstep of a university, I want to cherish the opportunity to impact students in their formative years, and look forward to those who come across our path becoming missionaries in their professional and personal lives.