'If and when' is self-defeating
By: Carl Ellis On 8/3/2011
There are many preachers and congregations who live not in the present but in the future of “if and when.” “If” we had more money or “when” we return to the 50s, our church will grow. “If” the conference really understood the small-membership church and “when” we get the perfect church or perfect minister, we will see growth.
I believe that those of us who live in rural America and belong to small-membership churches live in the “if and when” because we feel despair. We see the empty businesses and schools in our communities, read the United States Postal Service plans on closing small post offices, and our minds are cluttered with all the problems tomorrow might bring.
A headline in the July 28 issue of the Salina Journal newspaper read, “Rural America continues to shrink … All but 16 percent of Americans reside in cities or suburbs,” which seems to some like the nail in the coffin for small towns.
Some of us may begin to think not “if and when” growth will happen, but when will we close the church doors.
I have to admit the news sent me into a spiritual fog. Like the Psalmist, I began my lament and asked God, “Why have you called me to work with small-membership churches when the newspaper paints a doom and gloom future? Isn’t it time for me to serve a nice comfortable suburban church? Why not just close the doors and go work with the large churches?”
The next day as I was doing my devotion I felt God call me to Google facts and figures and get out the trusty calculator. Here is what I discovered.
According to the 2010 census, the population of Kansas is 2,853,118, and the population of Nebraska is 1,826,341. The total population of our new Nebraska-Kansas Area would be 4,679,459 people.
In addition, if 16 percent of the people live in rural areas, there are only 748,713 living in rural Kansas and Nebraska. Now, if 30 percent of the people in rural areas attend church that leaves 70 percent or 524,099 rural people who don’t attend church in Nebraska and Kansas.
Then I began to realize we, who love small rural churches, should not lament but understand we have a large mission field. If we could reach 2 percent of those who don’t attend church, our churches would grow by 10,481 people each Sunday.
What I discovered was that living the “if and when” only leads me and the church to death.
We who live in small communities and serve small churches have a mighty task. Unfortunately, we are just like the man Jesus met at the Beth-zatha (or Bethesda) Pool, who had been ill for 38 years. “If and when” someone helped him, he would be made well.
Jesus cut right to the point: “Do you want to be made well?” After the man’s “if and when” line, Jesus simply said, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” And he picked up his mat and walked.
I think Jesus is asking those who worship in small communities, “Do you want your church to be made well? Get up and walk!” Yes, businesses and schools have closed, post offices are going to close, and some of our friends have moved away. However, there are many who need Jesus Christ’s love and grace that we can with His help, find a relationship with God.