I’m sure there are church starters for whom the whole process rumbles along smoothly, with momentous events coming one after another like big waves off Waikiki. They start the whole process with a large committed core group sent from a supportive parent church, their Bible studies immediately explode with new members, their launch goes like gangbusters, and six months in they’re looking for a bigger space.
I personally don’t know any of those church starters, but I know they exist – I’ve read about them.
My context is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. My wife Victoria and I did a “parachute drop” church start, moving to a town with no contacts, no support, not knowing a single person in the entire county. Our core group was small, we launched small, and nine months in we’re still small.
And I’m not sure I’d trade with those mythical church starters previously mentioned.
Because I take inordinate satisfaction in the small successes. Those small pleasures are what makes it all worthwhile.
Small moments that would, I fear, get lost in the ambient noise of a bigger church start.
We deliberately placed our church in a neighborhood of the poor and working class, who we feared were being underserved and underrepresented in most churches. For a while after our launch we struggled to actually get anyone from the neighborhood to come try us out; we were the same group, just meeting in another part of town. Until we held a community cookout as a way to introduce ourselves to the neighborhood.
The cookout itself was a success, with almost 150 people stopping by to check us out, get a hot dog, or – for the kids – play some games and get their face painted. A reporter for the local paper came, did an interview with me, and talked to lots of our volunteers and guests which resulted in a front page article the following week.
But my favorite part of the event turned out to be the three ladies who walked three-fourths of a mile from the nearby low-income housing complex. They were the first guests that day, coming by even before we’d finished setting up and staying for most of the event.
The next evening those ladies were waiting for us when we came to open up the building to get ready for our church supper and worship service. And two of them have been coming ever since, only missing on an evening with thunderstorms and a heavy downpour – they walk, so it wasn’t really a surprise to not see them that particular evening.
How many church starters would be ecstatic to have three people show up? But, in our case, those three ladies represented our first real success in the neighborhood. They were a previously elusive foothold in a community that is suspicious of outsiders, wary of being someone’s “improvement project”.
One of the ladies has a real servant’s heart; Janice is there waiting every Sunday, helping us unload the car and get everything set up. Not once waiting to be asked, she just jumps in to help out. Whenever we have guests, Janice looks after them, clears their plates after dinner, and makes sure they’re taken care of.
One of my favorite little moments was the night one in early December when Janice came with us to see the huge drive-through Christmas light display at the recreation area of our local lake. On the way home, the conversation turned to our church being small. My heart swelled to hear Janice exclaim “we’ll grow. Don’t worry, we’ll grow!”
It was the “we” that did it. To hear her, after just a few weeks, staking a claim in Mosaic community had a tremendous impact. This was our first commitment from the population we’d come to do ministry with. A subtle and poignant moment.
It is these small moments that keep me going when the frustrations pile up.
When my spirits get low, it’s these small moments I recall and cling to.
Small moments that have major impact on this church starter’s heart.