Pastorally, a huge challenge in leading and growing a Church is trying to keep volunteers engaged in the ministry. When you’re small, there’s only a handful of people who are either able or available to pitch in and help. As a pastor I get excited when someone wants to help out. More hands lighter load and all that.
I am also keeping a constant eye on those that are helping to make sure they don’t burn out. This isn’t always possible as some people, for wrong and right reasons, don’t always speak up when they’re getting stretched. That is, until they go past the breaking point and disappear over night. By then, usually, it’s too late to recover and restore them. No amount of, “Why didn’t you say something earlier?” will change things. They’re gone. They might re-gather and get back into things later on, for which I am thankful, but it won’t be with me or at my church. That ship has sailed.
So, for those that are still here, what to do? Being a small Church is still exhausting. And, by small, I mean anything below 200-250 attendance. And by Church I mean a single gathered congregation. Anyhow… The problem hasn’t gone away.
Here’s the typical challenge: By some means, a new person, couple or family shows up (Sunday gathering or smaller group – doesn’t matter). They look around and either on that day or in the couple of weeks afterwards don’t find or connect with anyone with similar circumstances to them. They conclude that this isn’t the place for them. Their needs aren’t being met here. So, off they go. Oh, you’re a nice, welcoming congregation and all, but this is just not what I’m looking for. Bye!
Challenge 2: This is where it gets worse. Someone else who is regular in the Church sees this person come and leave and realises that they probably could have connected if only they had spoken up sooner or made the effort or whatever. The regular then concludes the same thing. It’s time to go. After all, they’ve stayed here for long enough and anyone that they could connect with doesn’t stay around anyway. Off they go too.
I think both challenges could be taken on by the person in scenario 2. When you’re a regular in a small church, you probably are already half way there. The difference will be whether you sit back or stand up. I have had this conversation every single week of my life in ministry. The regular looks around, they see a gap or a need that just so happens to affect them. They approach the Pastor or Church leader and the conversation goes… “The Church really needs to do something about <this need that I have, but I am pointing at others to make it more urgent>“
Instead of simply saying, honestly, “This is something I want for myself, but nobody’s providing it, so I am going to take my bat and my ball and go.” They try to dress it up to sound concerned about others. The technical term for this approach is … Bollocks! Ok, there is a stronger more definite term, but you get the idea. To be fair, sometimes people are this honest. That doesn’t change the challenge or the potential solution.
As argued by Dan Phillips on the Pyro Blog, far more eloquently, in a similar vein, the 2nd person could offer the service they are wanting someone else to give to them. That change in tack is the turning point that moves a Church from small and struggling to small, yet thriving and growing.
Too often, the expectation is that either the Pastor or those already serving in multiple other areas will be the ones to step into this “new” need to breach the gap. And, too often, they try, and inevitably set their own trajectory to burn out or be so busy keeping two dozen plates spinning that they have no time to do any one thing with excellence. It is a recipe for death in a small church. So, if this is the case in your small Church, you could go. Bye! Or, you could see a need, and fill a need! Whadayareckon?