Small churches often wonder what they can offer. What can we do when we are so small? There are a bunch of things small churches can do, and do well. Indeed, John Benton has written a great book – the big picture for small churches – where he goes into some specifics, very helpfully so, that small churches can do.
One of the things I think small churches can offer – not “just as well as” bigger churches but often much better – is simply being friendly. I’m not saying big churches are necessarily unfriendly (mileage may vary, of course) but I think small churches are especially well placed to be friendly. They are small enough to easily notice when new people turn up. They are intimate enough that the members can all know each other well. They can be friendly towards people and invite them into the intimacy of the family home, even if they are only visiting as guests.
All we really have to do is take an interest in people. When we see new people, we can go and speak to them. When we speak to them, we can ask about their situation and what is going on with them. We can take an active interest in them.
I think this particularly true when it comes to children. If Jesus rebuked his disciples and told them to let the little children come to him, I think how churches treat children and those people who don’t seem all that important or even like they will come and join and be active, helpful members of the church is quite telling. I think our interest when visitors come is important, but I think the interest we show in their children – who aren’t going to be joining our church or their own volition – has something to say about the character of our church.
By interest, I don’t mean do we have good youth work and Sunday School provision. You might be a small church without anybody able to run a Sunday School or have any youth provision. But you certainly can show an interest in children. You can ask about how they have found the service. You can ask about how they engaged with the Word. You can ask about how the applications might apply specifically to them. You can ask about their situation and show a genuine interest in what they are doing and their thoughts and concerns.
The same is true, of course, of those people who can’t evidently “do anything” for us. People who aren’t going to come to the church for whatever reason. People who will clearly come with many needs that will require a lot of attention. People who aren’t likely (at least not any time soon) to join and be able to run or expand the mission and ministry of the church. How we treat such people, how interested we are in them, shows something of the character of our church too. Do we only roll out the red carpet and really take an interest when it appears here is someone who might be really helpful to us, a great addition to the team, or are we just as friendly and interested when we know (for whatever reason) this particular person won’t necessarily be?
One thing every church can offer – but particularly small churches – is our friendliness. We can welcome guests, welcome people we know aren’t going to stay, show an interest in anyone who comes and express genuine love for whoever the Lord brings through our doors. I think there is much small churches can do and a lot they can offer. But in the end, we can always be friendly.