A young man in my last church cut off three of his fingers while cutting a piece of paneling in a van customizing shop. As he was being rushed to the hospital, he was asked, “Where are the fingers?” A man rushed back to the shop with a bowl of ice, grabbed the three digits and then rushed them to Birmingham in the ambulance along with the young man.
Nineteen hours of microsurgery reattached those fingers to the young man’s hand. Had they been left in the sawdust of that shop, the fingers would have been useless. They were only good to him if they were attached to his body.
It’s the same way when it comes to our attachment to the body of Christ, both globally and locally. We are members of the body—whether a finger, an ear, an eye or a spleen—and we need the rest of the body in order to live. We cannot make it on our own.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with a denominational leader in a different part of the country.
Over the last few years, he’s personally been involved in consulting engagements with about 60 declining churches within his denomination. That grabbed my attention. Honestly, I don’t have a lot of experience working with churches that are in decline.
With that in mind, I was curious to learn if there were any common themes. Within moments, he rattled off these five attributes of churches he’s worked with that are in decline:
“Since everything around us is going to melt away, what holy, godly lives you should be living!" (2 Peter 3:11 LB)
Your commitments can develop you, or they can destroy you, but either way, they will define you. Tell me what you’re committed to, and I’ll tell you what you’ll be in 20 years.
It is at this very point of commitment that most people miss God’s purpose for their lives. Many are afraid to commit to anything, so they just drift through life. Others make half-hearted commitments to competing values, and that leads to frustration and mediocrity. Others make a full commitment to worldly goals, such as becoming wealthy or famous, and they end up disappointed and bitter.
Ever heard of David Hogg? He taught Sunday school in Blantyre, Scotland, in the early 1800s. In the small church where he taught boys year after year, Hogg certainly had opportunities to question his significance. But his faithfulness and the Word of God ignited a love for the people of Africa in one of his students David Livingstone, who became arguably the greatest missionary to Africa in the 19th century, opening that continent to the gospel.
In the small church or those of us who are pastors of smaller churches, it can be easy to question the significance and impact we are having in our churches and communities compared with larger or more publicly recognized churches. Yet according to the Hartford Religious Institute, 61 percent of all Protestants attend churches with 499 or fewer weekly worshipers. That means the majority of Christians in America are being discipled and cared for in much-needed smaller and midsize churches, led by regular guys like us.
Gaining new believers is great, but it’s only half of the matter
U.S. churches define success by size. It's time to break the mold.