Understanding the Rural Church (Pt. 2)
By Dr. Glenn Daman
After he had been serving as the pastor for several years, David began to realize that the small church functioned with a unique set of characteristics. At first he tried to change them. Following the recommendations of the latest writings on the seeker-sensitive model of ministry, he tried to bring the church up to the 21st century (at least in his estimation). After several frustrating years, he stepped back and decided that perhaps he first needed to understand his people and what they wanted the church to be and do. After several months of careful listening, he began to realize that they had the same heart for evangelism, discipleship and worship that he possessed, only that they expressed it differently. Rather than try to change them, he decided that he would change his own attitudes and actions. For the first time since his arrival, he accepted them for who they were and how they expressed their faith in Christ. After a time he not only learned to accept their ideas, but he began to value their way of doing things. While it would not work in the larger church from which he came, he found that it was effective in this setting. It was not long until he discovered the people were genuinely expressing their appreciation for his pastoral leadership. Where his ideas were once quickly rejected, they were now starting to listen. New ideas were implemented while the church remained committed to many of its core values. The people not only became excited about what was happening in the church, they saw a new vision for what God could do in them and through them. Being effective in the small church comes when the leadership first accepts the people for who they are and learns to value the way they express their faith. Too often new pastors come in with the idea that they must drastically alter the people and drag them kicking and screaming into the modern church movement. This not only results in frustration in both the leadership and the people, but it involves a rejection of many of the key values that bind the small church together. While change is at times necessary, it should always be built upon love and acceptance of the people. Accepting the small church begins by understanding the characteristics that undergird its ministry. The leadership needs to carefully consider the unique values, beliefs, customs, traditions and attitudes of the congregation. Before a pastor has earned the right change them, he must first show that he values and accepts the people for who they are, how they worship and serve, and how they live out their faith in the context of a congregational community. Within the small church movement there fifteen characteristics that often mark the congregation (the first seven where discussed in Volume 4, Number 1). Not every one will be present in every church, but there often be several which characterize a specific congregation.
Characteristic #8: The church functions and worships inter-generationally.
Because they are a family they want to be with the whole family. To divide the congregation by age is to split the family. People in the small church not only enjoy being with other family members, they often resent any segregation (other than during the Sunday School). While they may have a separate service for the children, they still want the children present during part of the worship period, not only because they think it is important for the children to sit during the service, but because they enjoy seeing the children sing and participate when the church family gathers together to worship God and celebrate the familihood of God's people. In contrast to secular society which tends to segregate generations, with each generation competing against the other, in the small church, each generation looks out for the interest of others and values each one. The older generation values the younger people for their new ideas, whereas the younger people value the wisdom and even traditions of the other.
Characteristic #9: The focus is upon people rather than performance.
In the business mode of management, people are measured by the way they perform their assigned task. If any individual fails to fulfill their responsibility, then they are removed and the job is given to another. In the small church, the focus shifts to the individual person instead of performance. Thus, a person is kept in a particular position even though there are others more qualified and would do a better job. If the person fails to be responsible, others quietly do the job and nothing is said. The reason is because people do not want to hurt her feelings. Even though they may complain about the person's performance, ultimately they continue to overlook it because of their value of the person. Because the small church stresses people over performance, the congregation is not goal or task oriented. Those who try to manage by objects are met with indifference and apathy. People don't belong to the church or come to meetings to be organized and accomplish lofty objectives. They come to be present in the company of their friends and family who share their faith in God. Consequently, to lead effectively, the leader needs to focus upon management by relationships. Instead of developing goals to accomplish tasks, the pastor needs to develop people who will minister to others. Instead of finding the most qualified person to fill a particular role, the pastor needs to informally train the people in those positions.
Characteristic #10: They have a place for everyone.
The small church has a place for everyone. Whether it be the mentally slow person who runs the sound system, or the retired Grandmother who teaches the adult Sunday School Class, everyone is given the opportunity to be involved. Most large church would gladly have the percentage of participation that is often exhibited in the small church. One of the reasons the small church has so many people involved is that they act on the premise that involving people is a way of including people. In the larger church, people need to earn the right to be involved by faithful attendance. In the small church people are involved in hopes of getting them to faithfully attend. A second reason is that there is an intense desire to have everyone involved. When filling roles and responsibilities, the church often does not ask who is the best qualified, but who is not involved in any ministry within the church. The idea is that the load needs to be spread around. Like a family where everyone is given a chore around the house, so also the small church seeks to give everyone a task. After all, it is their family responsibility.
Characteristic # 11. The small church values relatives.
Because of its size, often times the church has a higher percentage of people related to other members of the church. This inter-relatedness has tremendous impact in the life of the congregation.One way it impacts the church is in the selection of key leadership positions. These are often determined by bloodlines. Individuals, whose family has a long history within the church are often chosen for leadership roles at a younger age than those who do not have such a history. When one individual steps down from the board after serving for many years, that position is given to his son, because the position has traditionally been assigned to his family. Only when there is no younger member, or the younger family member is spiritually carnal is the position given to another. Another impact it has is upon who has influence in the church. Often there is a person or family, who, because of their bloodlines, are the dominate people in the church. We will look more at this further under church types. What we need to recognize as leaders is that leadership involves working with these individuals rather than against them in making decisions and setting direction for the church.
Characteristic #12: The small church values generalists.
In an age of specialization, the small church values and utilizes generalists who can do a number of different jobs and responsibilities. Because there are few workers to perform the multiple tasks within the small church, there is a greater value placed upon leaders who can do a number of things satisfactorily rather than an individual who can do one thing extremely well. The larger the church, the more the church demands specialists. The smaller the church, the more the church depends upon generalists. This not only involves developing competencies in a number of areas, but also a willingness to do a number of tasks. The pastor not only needs to be a preacher, he may also need to be a Sunday School Teacher, a youth director, a song leader and a caretaker of the church property. They will not value the pastor based upon his expertise in one particular field, but upon his willingness and ability to perform a number of different responsibilities. Quality is not measured by how well one performs in one area, but how one performs in a number of areas.
Characteristic #13: There is a place for everyone and everyone has a place.
Place is extremely important in the small church. Like a family which sits in the same place for every meal, so also each person sits in the same place Sunday after Sunday. When they are absent, everyone notices their place is empty and they are missed. Even after their death, their place remains. People will remember "that is the place Grandma Jones sat." Place is more than just a worn seat on a pew, it is symbol of their belonging to the church family. It symbolizes their security in a world that is insecure. It becomes part of the memory and story of the congregation. Place is not only a seating arrangement, but a place in the ministry of the church. People are never excluded, but are readily accepted into the church. If jobs are not available, jobs will be created. This is not just because there are more than enough work to do, but because the small church operates under the firm belief that part of belonging is serving and place is both a spot on the pew as well as a position in the ministry.
Characteristic #14: It has a different calendar and different time table.
Every small church has their own calendar around which they function. This calendar is often seasonal and tied to the employment base for the community. For an agricultural community, this means the summer months are often extremely busy for the farmers, and it will difficult for them to be committed to any program, especially ones occurring during the week. On the other hand, during the winter months they have more time to commit to the ministry. Developing programs and ministries that run from October through April will result in greater participation and effectiveness. In reaching communities, the church needs to be careful against planing special events during calving season, when ranchers must stay at home to keep an eye upon their livestock. Community events such as the county fair may also have a significant influence upon the church calendar.
Characteristic #15: The small church people are givers.
People in the small church have a strong sense of ownership of the church. As a result they are willing to give their time and money to the church. However, often they view giving differently. Instead of giving from the stand point of a set amount, they approach it based upon the needs of the church. When the church struggles financially, they rise to the occasion, giving far more than ten percent. The budget, when it is made, is suggestive rather than determinative. When a need arises, it is met, regardless of whether or not it fits within the budget. Because of this, the church never becomes fully solvent. On the other hand, it always seems to have just enough. Yet in the end they out give and outdo many larger churches. However, they need to be able to see and understand the need. When a missionary comes, they give generously because they immediately see and understand the need. When they are asked to give to a program that they are unfamiliar with or is distant, the money only trickles in.
We earn the right to change the church only when the congregation knows that we first have accepted the things they value.