It’s Not about the Numbers But Faithfulness to God’s Call

As I was getting ready for an Elders meeting I looked a the attendance records for the last month or so. This time the numbers were not encouraging. In fact, it seemed to hit me pretty hard. We seemed to be down a fair bit compared to previous years. And then I did the “what is the problem?” mental dance. Is the church not growing because of me? Is the church not growing because of the population reality of our small town? Is it because our members are not inviting others or making them feel welcome? Do we actually have less people – or – are they just attending less frequently?

These questions don’t really help. I know there is a place for careful evaluation, but it doesn’t help to jump to conclusions without trying to confirm those conclusions. Some of the questions remind me that we have a huge job in front of us – even though we are in a small town. It is not an easy job to bring people to Christ. It is not easy to get people to see the value of attending church regularly.Ordination2

And then it seemed like I got a word from the Holy Spirit. This was not booming voice, just a clear impression: “Your value is not seen in the size of your congregation or the size of your community you serve in but your value is seen in your faithfulness to God’s call on your life.”

I needed that. I believe God has called me to rural ministry, and has called me to this church in this town. I believe that God is using me to lead this church and to teach and preach faithfully. I believe God is using me to develop friendships with non-church people in the community. I just need to be faithful to God’s call.

This morning I looked back at our attendance records and realized again that history often looks rosier the farther away from it you get. The numbers were not as high a few years ago as I remembered. So our numbers were not as much a percentage lower than I thought. This is one more example of how a small church notices the attendance of one or two families of 4 or 5. The attendance or non-attendance of even one or two families can make a big percentage difference.

All of this to say: “My value is not seen in the size of my congregation or the size of my community I serve in but my value is seen in my faithfulness to God’s call on your life.”

Yes, we do need to look at the numbers, but they don’t always tell the whole story. And I am not accountable to numbers, but to faithfully serve my God in the church He has placed me in.

May we serve faithfully and not allow discouragement to creep in because we are focusing on the wrong things. If we look around instead of to Jesus, then like Peter on the water, we soon begin to sink.

Chili Brings Them Out!

I like planning events that the church can use to invite friends to church. Our most recent Chili invite 2013 picone was this past Sunday – our third annual Open House Sunday & Chili Cook off. We have our service – pretty much the same as usual. We added in a Chili Trivia Quiz and took time to announce our programs for the fall. We had a shorter sermon than usual and dismissed our children and youth during that time to be introduced to their classes. And then we had chili!

In our posters and invitations we announced that people could enter a chili in the chili Cook off. We had 18 entries! And 4 of P1030472them were from people in the community who have never been to a church service before! One couple had been to our children’s choir presentation in December. We had all kinds of chili. The have to name their chili so we had names like Blazing Saddles, Divine Intervention, Chili Sundae, Hillbilly Chili, and even Chilly Chili which was a Chocolate pudding and marshmallow “dessert” chili. We planned for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place prize prizes – $100 to a nearby train car restaurant, $20 Tim Horton’s card, and a BIG chocolate bar. Everyone got to try all the chilies and then vote for their favorite.

It was a great morning. Our average attendance is around 60 and we had 92 people out. We had at least 20 new people! Everyone seemed to have a lot of fun! During the service, the gospel was presented as one young man shared his testimony and also through the sermon.

And now the people who came are promoting our church and our event to others! One ladies writes a blog and she posted a very favorable entry about the whole event.

Our desire is that these events will do two things: 1. help people to invite their unsaved family and friends, and 2. that the event will help all who come take one step closer to Jesus. Many people today want to Belong before they come to Believe. We think this morning helped to make people feel welcomed. We’ll see what God does with this one fun event.

Everybody Plays

The Church just celebrated the highlight of the church year, Easter!Easter 2013

For many churches it is a traditional service that evokes memories of similar services as a child. For others it becomes a special Sunday for creative expression of the gospel.

Our church falls in the second category. We move our Easter service off-site and take it to the Community Hall in our town. We call it an Easter Eggstravaganza. We do a pancake and ham breakfast at 9:30, an Easter Service at 10:30, and an Egg Hunt – with tons of chocolate – at 11:30.

But what really caught my attention this year was how many of our church people were involved in making this special annual event happen. I counted up all those who helped set up the night before, all those who helped prepare and serve breakfast, all those who donated candy or money for that, all those who helped clean up, all those who helped in the service, all those who invited people and helped make the whole weekend happen. And I came up with at least 40 youth and Adults who were involved in some way to make the event a success. 

And it was a success! Over 160 people attended and heard the gospel of the Easter Story.  We even had one person let us know on our Connection Cards that she wanted to have questions about Jesus answered, so my wife, Lynnette, and I were able to meet with her and tell her more about Jesus.

What I really wanted to celebrate is that we had 40 people,out of an average Sunday attendance of 60, serve in some way! In discussions about who we are and want to be as a church, our Elders Board recently stated that one of our core values should be: Everybody Plays. This was an example of that. Our congregation has bought into this event. They are all willing to make it happen.

That is one more of my joys in being in a small rural church. More often than not, we have a large percentage of our people serving in one way or another. In the past we did some Volunteer Appreciation Sundays where we began listing all those who had served in specific ways in the church. By the end of that ceremony we usually had only about 3 people left sitting in the pews. People didn’t like that so we quit showing our appreciation in that way, but the point is that we have most of the church involved in some means of serving – and that is exciting.

Everybody Plays!!

I had to cancel our Christmas Memorial Service

For a couple of years now I have led our church to put on a special Christmas memorial service for our community. The idea has been to offer some encouragement and comfort to those who are having a difficult time during a season when everyone else is supposedly full of joy and happiness. We even have a candle-lighting ceremony specifically for those who have lost a loved one in the last year.

But this year I had to cancel. Only one family talked to me about wanting a candle to remember a loved one. I realized that even if a few other people showed up, it would be too small of an event. It would feel uncomfortable for the one family involved in the candle-lighting service.

This is some of the reality of small town and small church ministry, isn’t it? Even though we don’t expect large crowds for most events, there still do have to be enough people to make it work.

The people who have attended in the past have expressed gratitude for an event that allowed them to pause in the busy festive season to mourn those whom they had lost in the past year. I’ll have to do some figuring whether to do it again, or to do it with some changes.

Oh well, the reality of small town!

Another Great Job By Our Little Church!

Our church, which averages about 65 people on Sunday, just put on an Easter Eggstravaganza outreach event for our community at our Community Hall. 250 people attended!!

This is the fourth Easter Eggstravaganza we’ve done. I have been pastor here just short of 4 years, and I have been regularly encouraging people to invite others to our special events. Obviously some of them did. I have been encouraging our people to Invest and Invite. Invest their time in getting to know their neighbors and coworkers. Invest time in being involved in community clubs and boards. Pray for the people they are investing their time in, and then to Invite them to church. We put on about 4 Big Events each year and encourage our people to use those as time to invite family and friends. And many of them did.

We put on a pancake and sausage breakfast at 9:30. During this time people could try their luck at guessing how many jelly beans in a jar as well as take in a free photo shoot. Pictures will be mailed out to them shortly. Our Easter Service began at 10:30 with Easter scripture readings, songs, and a sermon on the Hope of Easter. At 11:30 we had an Easter Egg Hunt at the neighboring school playground.

What really impressed me was that we had 5 people work with me on an Outreach Committee planning the event. We had about 30 people show up at our Pizza, Prayer, and Prep night on the Saturday evening as we ate, prayed, and prepared by setting everything up. On Sunday, after I joined families outside at the Egg Hunt, I headed back to the Hall expecting to begin clean up. But as I walked into the Hall, final sweeping was taking place. It was all cleaned up!!

After all that work, we had 250 people attend, some from out of town joining their families, but many were community people. And…2 people indicated that they “surrendered their life to Jesus” as we prayed after the sermon!

Our church does a great job working on these events. It’s becoming more and more part of who we are! And as a result, at least 2 people made a significant decision regarding Jesus!!

Celebrate the Small Wins!

I like to dream big.

I’m always looking ahead. When we put an event on as a church I’m always hoping for a big turn out.

We just had a Family Day Celebration last Sunday at our church. We had a Pancake Breakfast and a craft for the kids. Then during the service we sang a few songs and then played Family Feud – at least our version of it. When we sent the children out for their Children’s Church time I preached on “Why God Made Families”.

My wife and I invited alot of people. Others in the congregation did as well. Lynnette invited her whole Moms and Tots crew. I had kind of planned for 120, Lynnette was hoping for 140. We ended up with 95 people in the service and 8 that came for breakfast and then left. We had just over 100 people!!! That’s great for our church as we have been averaging around 65 people!

The tendency is to look at where we were dreaming and think we came up short. I think we need to look at where we have been and where we were. We had an increase of 50% -isn’t that exciting??

And of those there were at least 8 or 9 who had never been there before. We had about 10 or so that were there for the second time. We had another bunch that have shown up only occasionally, but they were there.

And we had the opportunity of connecting with all of these people. They got to meet some of us. They got to see what our church is like. They had a great breakfast and a fun service …AND they heard about Jesus. They heard about why God made families.

We need to celebrate our people inviting friends and family to come. We need to celebrate that they came. We need to celebrate that they got to meet the church and even see how the church worked together to put the celebration on. We need to celebrate that those who came heard about Jesus!

That’s worth celebrating. Celebrate the small wins. They’re probably bigger than you think.

Numbers go Up and Down Like the Stock Market!

I was looking at attendance numbers this morning, it wasn’t pretty.

I was reading a book about how to measure growth and was encouraged to pick October as the month to look at for the last couple of years. Here’s what I found. The average attendance for October 2008 was 52. The average attendance for the same month in 2009 was 72. That’s a HUGE increase! Especially if you think in percentages! And then I looked at the average attendance for October 2010. It was 53! So technically in one year we increased by 20 people or almost half of the previous year, but over a two year period it was an increase of only 1 person!

I think when you are in a small town and small church, you notice these swings from time to time and you can’t even point to any one specific thing as to why. Sure, some people moved, some switched to a church in the next bigger town, and some just quit on church. But that seems like quite a swing doesn’t it?

Here’s where one has to figure out what we can learn from the numbers but not get too caught up in them. If we haven’t done things right as a church and lost people as a result, then we need to fix that. If we can’t find anything we did wrong or need to improve, then maybe we just need to trust that God will continue to bring the people who need Jesus. We need to keep on keeping on and not let numbers discourage us too  much or even excite us too much. If we got too involved in the numbers I sure would have been on an emotional rollercoaster.

Maybe we need to be a little more concerned about the number of people in our church who are getting to know their unchurched friends and neighbors and co-workers. Maybe we should celebrate the number of people who are inviting friends to church.

Numbers go up and numbers go down – and they are important because each one represents a person, a soul. But we need to learn which numbers to focus on, live and minister faithfully, and trust God for the results He will bring!