By Tyler Edwards
Your church may be small. Your God isn’t. Smaller churches will typically have fewer resources than their mega-brethren, but that doesn’t mean their mission is different. The Great Commission wasn’t given to churches with fancy buildings and large staffs. It was given to high school dropouts who hardly had enough talent between them to inflate a balloon. Here’s the kicker: there were 12 of them. Jesus told 12 guys to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. What’s even crazier than the size of the mission is that the 12 bumpkins did it!
Sometimes we see size as a hindrance. But what does it hinder? Is God any less God when the church consists of 100 members than when it consists of several thousand? Is God the energizer bunny running on the power of people? Hardly. The problem is not that our church is too small or its resources too few, but that our understanding and reliance on God is inadequate.
Matthew records Jesus’ parable about three servants who were entrusted with different amounts of money when their master went away. One received five talents, one received two talents, and one was given a single talent. Each was expected to put the money to use.
When the master returned, he evaluated the work of each servant based on what he did with what he had been entrusted. The first two doubled their seed money. The master did not expect the two-talent servant to accomplish as much as the five-talent servant; he simply expected each one to be faithful with what he gave him.
The one-talent servant found himself in trouble. Why? He didn’t use what he was given for the benefit of the one who gave it. His offense was not failing to produce as much as the others, but failing to produce at all. We are not told to perform miracles. We are told to be faithful. Miracles are God’s work.
Smaller churches don’t require a smaller vision. They require more focus. I was the minister of a small church in Joplin, Missouri for six years. Cornerstone Church boasted a whopping 120 people on a good Sunday. We had fewer financial resources than a junior high kid with a candy addiction.
I wanted to turn the church into a mega-church. As a new minister, I tried to do all the things big churches do: men’s ministry, women’s ministry, children’s ministry, outreach ministry, small groups, mid-week service, youth ministry. It was a mess. We spent all our time and energy spinning plates. On a good week we pulled everything off without burning down the building.
Finally we reached a breaking point. The leaders were burning themselves out to put on programs the church didn’t care about. We got to the point where something had to give so we scaled back. Instead of trying to set up a variety of programs for the congregation, we shifted our attention to people outside the church. Our focus went from inward to outward—and things started to change.
I began talking with people who didn’t go to church to find out why they weren’t Christians. The most common response was, “Christians are hypocrites.” What they meant is that we say one thing and do another. Then it hit me. That was the problem. People have heard us talking about Jesus. They haven’t seen us living like him. So we set out to change that. We encouraged the church to show the love of Jesus to the community. We challenged them to put their faith into action and we unleashed them. We stopped focusing on internal programs and turned our attention to the external mission.
Unchurched and dechurched people started showing up at our door. Lives were being transformed. Baby Christians were growing into leaders. People were overcoming addictions and growing in their relationship with God. Marriages that were falling apart were restored. Our little church was doing something it hadn’t really done before: making a difference.
Why? We stopped focusing on pointless programming and starting investing in mission. We moved outside our walls and into our community. On multiple occasions we dismissed services and sent the people out to do practical things in the community. We prayed for people in the hospital, took food to neighbors, fed the homeless, and bought groceries for a stranger. Instead of spending our time talking about Jesus, we went out to show him to people.
We were a small church. We were deeply in debt with no real skills or resources. We simply brought our sack lunch to Jesus and discovered that, in God’s hands, it was enough. That made all the difference in the world.
God Is Big
Just as we were starting to get the hang of the whole “love your neighbor” thing, we got hit with a storm. Literally. An EF-5 tornado ripped through our town, killing more than 160 people and destroying nearly 8,000 homes and businesses. Many of our church families lost their homes, cars, and jobs. We had the desire to help, but not the means to do so. Then God stepped in.
Without making a single phone call for outside assistance (we couldn’t have called if we tried—our phones didn’t work), our small church become a storage facility for relief supplies. More than 20,000 square feet of supplies came in from all over the country. Semi trucks showed up unannounced to deliver goods for us to distribute as we saw fit.
Suddenly resources were not a problem. So we started reaching out. We gave people everything from new cars to home appliances to food and toiletries. We provided thousands of people with food, drinkable water, and other vital supplies. That’s when it hit me: we spend so much time considering what we can do, we rarely stop to consider what God can do. When was the last time you attempted something so big you needed God’s help to pull it off?
The amount you have been given is not as important as what you do with it. God loves people. He wants all people to come to him. He sends those who have been touched by his grace to share the message of grace with others.
Jesus has given us a big mission. It isn’t based on how big our church is, but on how big our God is. This means it is impossible for a church to cast a vision that is too large, extreme, or outlandish. The crazier our goals, the more we will be forced to rely on God to meet them.
God gave us a mission that was so big we couldn’t even hope to accomplish it on our own. In fact, he doesn’t want us to do it on our own. He wants to partner with us. That’s why it’s called a “co-mission.” When we partner with God to carry out the work of his kingdom, we’ll have all the resources we need to do what God calls us to do.
Tyler Edwards is a freelance writer in Ponte, Florida.
“Small Churches = Big Impact” Ed Stetzer interviews Brandon O’Brien about his book, The Strategically Small Church
“A Church That Sees Opportunities When None Are in Sight” by Neal Laybourne