Small Church Sunday
Whether you join in the commercial chaos or not, I’m sure you’re all familiar with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that has become the biggest shopping day of the year. I would guess that many of you are also aware of Cyber Monday, the first Monday following Thanksgiving, in which e-commerce businesses offer specials and deep discounts. But not as many of you may have heard of Small Business Sunday, an event established to encourage holiday shoppers to patronize brick and mortar businesses that are small and local.
One of the things I’ve always appreciated about small, locally owned stores is their personal service. When we lived in Freeman, SD I bought almost all my hardware and building supplies from Wipf’s Coast to Coast and Freeman Lumber Company. I was willing to pay a little bit more for the convenience and service. Whenever I was in the middle of a do-it-yourself home improvement project I could drive five blocks, purchase my supplies and get expert advice from Monte, Dan, Roman, Don, Willis, or Orville on how to complete the project for no extra charge.
I also appreciated the fact that whenever I came into the store they would immediately greet me by my name. But they knew more than my name. They had an idea of my skill level, my knowledge of tools and products, my family, and our values, so they tailored their questions and advice to my needs.
And because I was a loyal customer, they treated me well. They knew we could have gone into Sioux Falls to buy our Christmas gifts and make our big purchases, but chose to keep our business close to home. When our young children would go Christmas shopping, we could let them wander the store without having to remain in our immediate sight, knowing they would be watched and given help to purchase gifts for others. I can’t tell you how many times that the storekeepers in Freeman told me how much they enjoyed watching our children shop.
As I think about it, many of the benefits of patronizing small businesses have their corollary in the benefits of membership in a small church. For purposes of discussion, I’m thinking of small churches as those with under 500 members, which includes about 73% of LCMS congregations. Like small businesses, small churches face many challenges. I don’t have to tell you this. Many of you have been in the leadership of small churches for decades and have experienced the struggle firsthand. But for today, I’d like to focus on the benefits of a small church.
On a practical basis, in the small church you have a better opportunity to get to know your pastor and for him to get to know you and your family. Knowing each other’s struggles and joys, you can both offer specific support and prayers for one another. As you get to know your pastor, you will be more comfortable sharing even more sensitive areas of your life with him, so that we might give you tailor-made guidance from Scripture. As your pastor gets to know you better, he will also be able to help you discern your special talents and interests and help you learn how to use those gifts for the good of Christ’s Church and your own family, friends, and community. He’ll teach you how to use the spiritual tools already at your disposal and perhaps add a few new ones to your tool kit to help you in your Christian life and service.
Sometimes parents with children with gravitate toward larger congregations that seem to offer more programs and activities for their children. But children growing up in a small church can be mentored among people of a wide range of ages, outside interests, vocations, and levels of spiritual maturity that it difficult to happen in congregations that must split into groups based upon age or interest for sake of management. Older adults have the chance to share in the joy and wonder in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that the little ones offer and that we so often lose over the years.
More important than anything else is that in the small church (as in every church), Christ Himself, through His blessed Word and Sacrament, dwells to give life and salvation. That is a point that C.F.W. Walther like to drive home when he sensed any devaluation of smaller parishes by anyone in the Synod.
Matthew Harrison writes: “Small churches so well approximate the ideal that Luther held up for the Church, as we are all members of the same body, caring for one another. Christ cares for us, gives Himself for us. We, in turn, give ourselves for the neighbor. This happens nowhere as well, as naturally, and as consistently as in the small parish. Where mistakes are made, we flee to the forgiving waters of baptism, confess our sins, and resolve in faith to begin anew in love, both “laying down our burdens in the midst of the congregation” (Luther), and finding the burdens of others there to take up. God knows that as we often know well the sins of our neighbors (and they know ours!) in smaller congregations, the need for forgiveness and grace as we work together is all the greater!”
So, given all the benefits of the small church, and in the spirit of the holiday marketing campaigns, I propose we start observing “Small Church Sunday,” this Sunday, and next Sunday, and every following Sunday, always remembering, celebrating, and sharing the blessings of membership in a small church.