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Being Small

by | Nov 7, 2022 | North District Newsletter

As I have been traveling the circuit from church conference to church conference, I have been amazed at the breadth, depth, and faithfulness of the ministry taking place. I have also observed how small we sometimes think of ourselves as the church.

SMALL is one of those words that can have an odd sound the more I say it. Kind of like the word CELERY. Give it a try — say SMALL or CELERY over and over.

I have learned that this experience has a name, too — semantic satiation — which is the name of a psychological phenomenon in which the repetition of a word causes it to lose its meaning and it becomes just noise. Not only can this happen with the rapid saying of a particular word, but also because of prolonged use and exposure.

I think the word CHURCH has this odd combo of reasons it can lose its meaning — one because it trips up the tongue when trying to say CHURCH quickly and repeatedly. Secondly because if you can say CHURCH repeatedly, then it enters into that place of noise. Thirdly, the CHURCH loses meaning because it suffers from prolonged generational use and exposure.

Because of being subject to over-exposure, I am not sure we often even know what CHURCH truly means. What does CHURCH mean to you? If you ask a person on the street to define CHURCH, what do you think they would say?

Perhaps your church has a double whammy of suffering from being a SMALL CHURCH. An all-too-often debilitating condition.

Is your church too small? If it is only located at a specific address and only associated with a particular building — then, YES — your church is too small!

If only based on the number of persons in the pews, then yes — your church is too small. No matter how many persons are members or worshipers, we always need to be reaching more.

If you evaluate your church based on the numbers — dollars in the offering plate, members, people in the pews, ministries, and activities — then your church is too small.

If you consider that your church has enough people and enough offerings and enough ministry and it is just fine the way and the size it is — then your church is definitely too small.

It is time to enlarge our vision and understanding of CHURCH.

I was recently in a conversation with a team of church leaders. We were discussing implementing the Simple Structure model in which many committees are combined into a single board of nine leaders. One of the leaders said, “We are smaller than we once were. It is time to reduce the number of committees.” We all agreed that the structure needs to take a new shape and so does the way the church does ministry as well as understanding its scope, size, and meaning of CHURCH.

We often think SMALL when we think CHURCH.

Our conversation then turned to the way that the people of this church were so very active (sometimes called BUSY — another one of those words?). “We wear multiple leadership hats at church. We are caring for the increasing health troubles in ourselves, our family, and our friends. We are a part of many community groups and concerns. We no longer seem to have the time to be able to add one more church thing to our plates.”

Think bigger, CHURCH!

What if your life as a disciple of Jesus Christ were what you named CHURCH? Yes — everywhere you went and everything you did was an extension of the Body of Christ. CHURCH would not only be what First UMC was up to, but CHURCH would be what each of us is always up to.

That small team of leaders began to name the many ways and places their church members were active leaders in the community. They have served on the City Council, the School Board, at the Homeless Shelter; and led community-wide fundraisers to get supplies for the teachers and students at the Elementary School. They have stood up at the County Board of Supervisors to be the voice for Queer people when they were shut out and put down.

Now we are talking BIG CHURCH. Now we are being CHURCH everywhere, anytime, and with everyone. SMALL CHURCH is considering only the people and activities at my church. SMALL CHURCH is only at 10 am on Sunday morning at 123 Main Street. SMALL CHURCH is only for people who profess and practice the faith just like me.

Now let’s get even BIGGER.

What if we began to understand and know the Body of Christ as being even more than anything we have ever named as CHURCH? What if the Body of Christ were known to be every one of our neighbors? Every one of our neighbors — even if they never enter a church building, profess with certain words, or identify as Christian. But because Christ loves them, one and all, they are a part of Christ’s Body.

Now that is BIG CHURCH. Living into who we are called to be.

Blessings to All,

Dan

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Author: Dan Morley

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