Small & Faithful
Have you ever asked yourself, “I wonder why our church is not experiencing the growth in numbers like other churches in our region?” If you have ever asked that, you’re not alone; I have asked myself that same question over the many years I have spent serving in pastoral ministry. To be honest, I often felt guilty over the fact that the churches I served had not seen a rapid, numerical growth during my pastorate there. But I have decided to stop feeling guilty about that, in light of the description of the seven churches described in the Book of Revelation, chapters 2 and 3. Interestingly, the three largest churches (Ephesus, Sardis, and Laodicea) were strongly criticized by Christ for one or more shortcomings, yet the two smallest churches (Smyrna and Philadelphia) received His strongest praise—for their faithfulness.
To the church in Smyrna, Christ said, “I know your poverty, yet you are rich! Be faithful (literally, “Keep on being faithful”) unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” And to the church in Philadelphia, Christ said, “I know that your strength is small, yet you have kept My word and have not denied My name.” Divine diagnosis: numerical midgets yet spiritual giants! So, in the eyes of Christ, church growth and congregational size do not necessarily equal spiritual health and vitality. In other words, Christ does not play the numbers game, and neither should we. (How soon we forget the lesson Christ taught in the Feeding of the 5000 with only five loaves and two fishes!)
After re-reading those seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation, I stopped feeling guilty about my church (past or present) not being in the same league as the “big” churches around town. I then began entertaining a radical thought: Perhaps Christ’s will is not for my church—or your church—to become a famous, mega-church with a household name, but instead a congregation of believers who are concerned not with being successful but faithful. Remember that Christ said in Matthew 25:21, “Well done, good and faithful servant”—not “Well done, good and famous servant.”
Please keep in mind that, although your church may not rank as the largest one in your area, it is probably not the smallest one either. Even if it is the smallest one, remember that the Lord is not impressed with size but with service. Instead of bemoaning the fact that our congregations are not growing by leaps and bounds as we hear others are doing, we should instead be rejoicing in the little blessings that are evident all around us, such as the new visitors who are attending—and returning to—our worship services, and those individuals who are feeling called by Christ to join our churches and to increase their spiritual involvement by becoming actively involved in the life and ministry of the congregation—in its worship, work, and witness.
As we continue our daily journey through 2005 and beyond, let us remember that the growth of any congregation does not depend upon any one individual or group in particular—not the pastor or the deacons or some committee—but solely upon Christ, who said, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). Even the Apostle Paul recognized this fact when, instead of boasting about his own ministry efforts, he gave all the credit to the Lord in these words: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1Corinthians 3:6). May we never forget that the numerical growth of any church is always one by one, not ton by ton, and we should rejoice over each one that is added. As the words of the hymn “There Shall Be Showers of Blessing” remind us, we should indeed plead for Christ to bless us with “showers” of new members while at the same time being grateful day by day and Sunday by Sunday for the gradual increase in numbers and involvement—those “mercy drops” falling all around us.