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Evangelism in the Small Church
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by Roger Hernandez

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When I showed up to the small country church on my first Sabbath, there were only six people in attendance. The church was composed of one family (who seemed to make all decisions), one visitor, another member that would come and go depending on the harvest, and the Sabbath School director that would do the welcome, sit down, do the mission story, sit down, do the special music, sit down. I don’t know if she wanted to give the illusion that more people were present, but it did not work!
 
In America, bigger almost always equates with better, especially when it deals with churches. We hear about large churches in other places with hundreds (even thousands) flocking to experience the worship service, where Pathfinders are counted by the dozens, and there are Sabbath School classes (in plural, as in more than one). The reality, however, is different for many congregations. Many of our churches are small with less than 75 in attendance. That poses some real challenges and opportunities. If you belong to a small church, here are 10 questions to keep in mind as you faithfully reach out to evangelize the community that surrounds you.
 
1. Who are we? You are not a large church. Don’t try to be one! Pick one thing, and do it with
excellence. Be known in the community for that one thing. Promote it. Talk about it. Encourage it. Take pride in it.
 
2. Is our focus health or growth? Healthy organisms grow. Many times a church won’t grow not because it can’t, but because it won’t. Internal strife and general unhealthiness is keeping it stuck in neutral. People in the community are already messed up, they don’t need any extra drama in their life. When a person joins a dysfunctional church and sees all the unhealthiness, they can become inoculated for life against Christianity. Get healthy. You will grow.
 
3. How do we treat guests? One extreme is to smother guests. They are few and far between, so when
they show up there will be those who will urge them to immediately join. Still others will smother guests with too much information (like the evils of milk). Please don’t. Jesus didn’t die so you would stop eating
cheese. There sure are more primary things we could start the conversation with newcomers. Welcome
them. Love on them. The other extreme is to see guests as intrusions. We may not verbalize this, but our
lack of attention to them, sends a strong message: “Thanks for coming, but we are good here.”
 
4. Are we doing what we do with excellence? Small doesn’t need to equal mediocre. Excellence honors
God and inspires people. Sometimes the temptation when part of a small church with few helping hands
is to give less than the best and let the circumstances determine the effort. Think to yourself: If God
would bring us 50 guests today, what would they experience when they show up?
 
5. How is your attitude? A consistent problem I run into are small churches that constantly complain
about the pastor, the conference forgetting they exist, the surrounding area that is experiencing “young
flight” and a host of others maladies. If you are not careful, that attitude can become visible, permanent
and act as repellent to the people you are trying to attract. Keep a smile on your face. God rewards faithfulness, not sour grapes. Think about it: who would want to stay in a church that is always talking about how bad things are?
 
6. What is wrong with being small? Nothing! Small doesn’t equal bad. Some of the best restaurants I
have ever eaten at were holes in the wall. There are people out there that are specifically looking for
a small church. They believe big churches are impersonal and they want to make a bigger difference.
There are things a small church can offer that a big church never could, and vice-versa. That’s ok. We
need churches of all sizes. If you are a small church, be the best small church you can be.
 
7. How is your faith, hope and love? If the church is the key instrument that God uses to share the good
news with the world, then we must never lose three things: faith in the God who founded it, hope in
its success, and love for the community it serves. Meet every week with the expectation that regardless of
the past, God is about to do a new work. Prepare to receive the blessing that although delayed, is not denied.
 
8. How are your leaders? Leadership makes the difference. One word of caution: Since in a small church, leaders are at a premium, the temptation for the existing ones is to take on too many responsibilities. That can either burn you out, or can send the message to new potential leaders that they are not needed. Continually advertise the availability of leadership positions and look at newcomers as contributors not threats.
 
9. Who is your church for? If your church is for the frozen chosen, for the founding members, for
the people that already know the good news, then let’s put up with clutter, drafty windows, smelly
bathrooms, and a lifeless worship service. But if church is for people that are far from God, a keen
interest should be taken so the environment sends the message: We care about our church because we
care about the lost people God will bring to it. A building that doesn’t smell is a great start. Throw away
the ingathering materials, it’s not coming back. Paint it. Fix it. Make it look good. It’s all for them.
 
10. When are you doing evangelism? People in your community need Jesus. Don’t give up on
evangelism. Expand it, don’t eliminate it. Do it in many forms, many ways. I once had a church that had
25 people. We did a crusade. Baptized zero. Did another one. Baptized zero again. Did another. Baptized two. That church has now become a company, and has regular baptisms. Don’t give up.
 
The church I mentioned in the beginning of the article grew to around 50 with an emphasis on sustained
intercessory prayer, outreach and small groups, and two yearly reaping crusades. If God can do that in a
one traffic light town in the middle of apple orchards with six people, he can surely bless you where you
are. Thanks for your service to God and faithfulness to His work. Thanks for keeping the light on. Thanks
for keeping hope, faith and love alive in your small church.
 
Roger Hernandez is the ministerial and evangelism director for the Southern Union Conference