I recently wrote a chapter for a book edited by my friend Jeff Farmer called Small Church, Excellent Ministry: A Guidebook for Pastors. My chapter specifically looked at “Getting Small Churches on Mission.” The below is used with permission from Wipf & Stock Publishers. In Part 1, I offered three big-picture ways for smaller churches to begin moving toward mission. Today, I talk about how smaller churches can reach their communities and beyond for Christ.
Numerically, smaller churches dominate U.S. life. They should also be key parts of the mission.
There is much benefit, therefore, in identifying various ways that smaller churches can reach their communities and beyond for Christ. This chapter will identify and briefly expound a few ways small churches can be mission-minded, both locally and globally. They are in no particular order of preference or importance, and there is certainly no expectation that a church on mission would only select one of these opportunities. Many coalesce together and can be seamlessly integrated to form a more fully orbed missional church.
Small churches can serve the hurting and the poor.
Today, churches are known for many things, but meeting the needs of the hurting and poor is rarely (if ever) one of them. If we join Jesus on his mission, I think we too will serve those who are hurting. In fact, I think the world is often confused when they see a church that claims to follow Jesus but is not actually doing much of what Jesus did.
They know he healed the sick and ministered to the hurting, and they wonder why a church would be unengaged in these areas. To paraphrase Ghandi, “Why do your Christians look so little like your Jesus?”
Think back to the early church. One of the primary activities they were known for was serving the poor. As one Roman emperor, Julian the Apostate, wrote:
These [Christians] not only feed their own, but ours also; welcoming them with their [love], they attract them, as children are attracted with cakes . . . Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated [Christians] devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. Such practice is common among them, and causes contempt for our gods.
He knew that acts of charity towards the least of society in the name of Jesus were having a profound effect. The marginalized, those who had little to give to society, still had value and worth in the eyes of God and Christians, and as their needs were met their hearts were opened to abandoning false gods and learning about Jesus.
Small churches can recapture this passion for ministering to the hurting in their communities. You don’t need state-of-the-art worship facilities or a seven-digit church budget to care for those in need. You only need to be willing to engage and empathize with the downcast and weary, and in doing so you might see their hearts opened to Jesus.
Small churches can partner together, either through association via a denominational structure or as part of a city partnership, to pool resources towards this end. A food pantry that is stocked once per month by a different church is an affordable way that small churches can contribute. Giving to a ministerial alliance fund specifically created to assist with an overdue utility bill or missed rent payment means the world to someone on the brink of having their electricity cut off or being evicted from their home.