I am a ‘small church’ pastor. By nearly every statistical measure, we are near the bottom of the list: we have a smaller congregation, a smaller budget and a smaller list of programs than most other churches. In fact, at a denominational meeting last weekend, as reports of growth and impact were shared, I felt like our church was a decorative gourd at the State Fair’s Pumpkin Contest. Our puny statistics were seemingly insignificant in comparison to those of the churches around us. Even as I write this, I sense a funny thing about statistics: their meaning and value are always subject to interpretation.
Does size matter? While the chain hardware store may have a better selection than the locally owned hardware store, is the service necessarily better? While the chain restaurant may have more locations than the locally owned restaurant, are their meals necessarily better? Likewise, does ‘quaint and cozy’ necessarily equate to ‘high quality’? If you are anything like me, we frequent Home Depot as well as Norfolk Hardware and Papa John’s as well as Town Spa. Our consumer satisfaction is subject to what we value. Size is one statistic that can prove valuable, but certainly not the only statistic worth considering.
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32 (NIV)
If I were asked to establish a matrix for evaluating a church, I would begin with an assessment of integrity – Is the church (the local representation of the kingdom of heaven) really what it appears to be? In looking at the church as a mustard seed, we must first we begin with a mustard seed and not a pebble resembling a mustard seed, a husk that was once a mustard seed or a caraway seed which differs from a mustard seed. All of these have purpose, but only a mustard seed will produce a mustard plant. No matter the size, a church needs to be what a church is intended to be – the body of Christ proclaiming the truth of Christ to all the world.
Then, I would assess the environment where that seed exists. In looking at the church as a mustard seed, we must provide a suitable soil to enable the seed to germinate and eventually bear fruit, making sure it is watered, weeded and fed. Without the proper situation, it will remain a seed. Anyone can go to the grocery store and pick up a bottle of mustard seeds, which will remain just mustard seeds forever unless they are planted in a place of growth.
Finally, I would assess the intention of the church for the future. In looking at the church as a mustard seed, we must expect a mustard plant to grow, not desiring apples, figs or jalapenos instead. We will only produce what we plant. When we trust the faithfulness of God, we will develop roots and branches, as well as more seeds for future growth.
I am a ‘small church’ pastor. By a few statistical measures, we are right up there with the best of the best. We maintain a godly integrity (rightly dividing the word of truth and declaring Christ as Lord and Savior), a godly environment (rightly fostering and feeding the ‘sheep’ God has placed in our fold) and a godly intent (rightly focusing on the hope founded in the promises of Scripture which describe what we are and will become). Perhaps one day I will be a ‘big church’ pastor, if that is God’s will for us. After all, when it comes to mustard plants, size doesn’t matter; the substance of its make-up does.