A Small Church in A Small Town – The Past

I am continuing my series of posts on life in a smaller Church (under 300) in a smaller town. The Church I currently serve is in a town of 1,600 people who are mostly rural in nature. Life here is different from life in a Church of 300 plus or in a town of 20,000 plus. It is really different from a Church of over 1,000 people or in a community of over 100,000 people.

Yesterday I looked at the role of the Pastor and today I want to look at the past of a smaller congregation. Every congregation I have served had a strong history. The Churches had been around for a long time in their communities. One in northern Indiana was not only the oldest Church in town but one of the oldest in the state.

One thing I have noticed about smaller Churches is that they have a sense of stability. Nothing really seems to faze a smaller older congregation. That is because they have been around long enough to see it all. The Church has had high and lows and they have had difficult times and wonderful times throughout their history. They have survived through all of those experiences and they believe they will survive long into the future.

In fact, one common conversation has occurred in every congregation I have served. That is the talk about “good old days.” Every Church has told me about the time their attendance was the highest in worship, the time their Sunday school was averaging the most people and the time their VBS had every kid in town. Without exception, every Church I have served had some glory day that everyone remembers fondly.

The downside to this stability and glorious past is that there is usually no plan for the future. The Church once had a great ministry going and it slowly passed. Now there is no plan to try to get it back again. There is this thought that says, “Growth comes and goes and one day it will come again.” “If we are patient and keep doing things the same way, one day the glory will return.”

The hard reality is that this is simply not true. Growth both spiritual and numerical will not return without some plan to make it happen. You see, when I begin to ask more and more questions I find that those glory days of the Church were usually preceded by strong leadership, daring plans and leaps of faith. The Church tried contemporary music, they experimented with two services, they offered the most outrageous VBS ever or did some great event to shake things up. For a few moments the Church planned, prayed and served and something great happened. Then over time the Church lost that leadership, and sometimes the faith, to dare action and it slowly slid down into disarray. Now it looks backs happily into the past and backs blindly into the future.

After years of experience I have learned that it is great to celebrate the past. I deeply appreciate all those who have paved the way for me to be here as a Pastor at this Church. But in order for a Church to go forward it needs to turn itself toward the future and dream about what God can do based off of what he has done.

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