When it comes to sports, I seem to gravitate to teams that are not powerhouses. In basketball, I used to root for the Lakers during the Magic Johnson-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar days of the 1980s, but now I pull for the Denver Nuggets due to now living in Colorado. In baseball, the Cincinnati Reds and the Colorado Rockies (not the Yankees or Dodgers). In American football, the Cincinnati Bengals. In American soccer, I root for the Colorado Rapids; in British soccer, Everton. None of these make a lot of consistent noise season after season.
When it comes to churches, I gravitate toward non-powerhouse churches as well. We have some rather large and influential churches. As such, many are big fans of those churches. In fact, I’d say that many who are influential and even many church leaders gravitate to two types of churches: the big and the new. How can I say this? Because that’s what is celebrated on stage, in periodicals, on websites, and in missions offerings emphases.
Should we celebrate them? Absolutely! Many large churches are faithful to the Scriptures and faithful to the Great Commission. And the new? Praise God for more gospel presences. New churches often compel those who do not normally come to church to attend–and many of these would not attend an established church.
Yet what can we do to help the established church that may be neither big nor new? Many pastors of these churches feel isolated and undervalued. They aren’t big; they aren’t new. They are normative size (100-200 in size) who have a stigma from many that if they were truly being effective, they would not be so ‘small.’
One time, at a denominational event about 10 years ago, a denominational leader told of a time when he was approached by someone who questioned his evangelistic methods. The first thing he did was to look up the pastor’s church’s attendance. When he saw that the pastor’s church only had 60 in average attendance, he dismissed his query. Why? “Clearly he’s not being evangelistic if his church is so small.” And everyone (except me, it felt) laughed and agreed.
That always stuck with me. Do all influential people in this type of leadership look upon normative sized churches the same way? I know for a fact now that they don’t. But you can imagine how that could stick in the heart and mind of a young pastor.
- History: The beautiful aspect of established churches is their historical fingerprint on both the hearts of those who have been a member and, hopefully, on the community. Find out things like whether your church was planted out of another church and when and celebrate that. Did the previous pastors stay faithful to the Word? Celebrate that! Was the church planted to reach a certain demographic? Celebrate that, but also pray and see if God has a plan for your church to strengthen your people and connect with the community!
- Wisdom: Many established churches have older generations who are still faithful, still attend, still contribute, and still serve–and still, after all their years, love Jesus. Like Gamaliel at the end of Acts 5, they have seen many things come and go and experience many ups and downs, but in their faithfulness to Jesus and the Word provide a wisdom and perspective that’s needed for many young zealots ready to call down fire from heaven at disobedience and are ready to move headlong in Kingdom work without wise preparation.
- Intergenerational ministry: Obviously, #3 is connected with #2. Many established churches have multiple generations attending and serving. Growing up, I remember being a teenager serving alongside someone in their 70s and thinking nothing of it. They were like my spiritual uncles and grandfathers. I loved hearing their stories, their funny sayings, and about their love for Jesus. And what I remembered most is, they listened to me. They modeled 1 Timothy 4:12 and didn’t look down on me because I was young. We listened to each other, learned from each other, and that affected me for the rest of my life and impacted me in pastoral ministry.
There’s more. But, friends, just because a church is established (old) and a normative size (100-200) does not mean that God isn’t working or moving in it. Celebrate the big! Celebrate the new! But let’s celebrate the faithful, regardless of what it may look like.