Why? Because what you get out of it depends on what you put into it! True for the septic tank, true for the Church ... and with apologies to Tom Lehrer for the co-opting of his famous sewer quote.
So why am I going down this rather bizarre road? Well, I've been thinking about what people think church should be. I've been amazed by the variety of images people carry about "Church." Even if they understand that "Church" is the people of God gathered together (as opposed to a building somewhere), they still have some interesting ideas of what to expect from the Church.
I live in the United States, which has to be the preeminent consumerist, capitalistic culture in the world. We worship stuff in the US - all kinds of stuff! My first degree was in Marketing, so I know how to write the liturgy of advertising to pull and tug at every insecurity you might have so as to conflate your personal wants into desperate needs you can't live without! Now that's something really scary, but most people don't really know how much they are being manipulated by the consumerist messages of buy, buy, buy and more, more, more every day of their lives. Insatiable wants are the engine that has kept our economy going, regardless of the damage to the planet (say "global warming"), damage to relationships (how 'bout those maxed out credit cards??), and damage to God's image in us. When we enter the Church for one hour a week on Sunday, after spending the remaining 111 hours this past week being bombarded by consumerist messages, is it any wonder that we begin to treat the Church as some sort of purveyor of "religious goods and services?"
OK, you're probably saying, "What's up with this rant, Vicar?" Well, it's really to raise the awareness that the Church isn't the local grocery store or big box outlet selling you programs and feel good stuff. I run into folks who complain about how our congregation doesn't have this program or that program, or the service times are inconvenient for their kids' sports schedules, or they don't like the worship style, or any of a hundred other comments. It's as if the attitude is they are here to shop for their own needs and the heck with becoming a contributing member of a faith community. If there's nothing handed to them on a platter, they're outta here!
Here's an idea ... if you don't find it ... found it! This is true everywhere, but critically important in the small congregation. Now if you're intent on being a "taker of services" and not a "contributor towards the Body of Christ," you'll blow off this advice and I can just feel you clicking away from this page. (Yeah ... I was given superpowers to feel those clicks at ordination ... ok, not really, but it would be cool wouldn't it?).
BUT, if you're looking to make a difference somewhere, then you're still with me and it's time to read on. Small congregations have some real advantages for people who want to be a part of something more organic and less structured than larger churches. Pastor Dave Fitch sings the praises of small congregations here. But if you're looking at a small missional church, Pastor Dave has these words of advice on what to expect and not expect from a missional church (my personal favorite is point #1 which influenced my musings today).
I do find the energy and flexibility of the small congregation exciting. When members hear about mission or outreach opportunities in our congregation, we bring it to the community and then we do it. We don't have tons of committees who have to "approve" things and lots of hoops to jump through ... if it makes sense, we do it. So we started shipping t-shirts, socks and sweatpants to the wounded soldiers at the 28th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad (50 pounds of clothes last month and another 50+ for this month), and we're joining the local CROP Walk for hunger relief, and we did a Blessing of the Pets service yesterday (check out the pictures here), and we're planning an intergenerational Advent party ... among other things.
So if you want something better out of the sewer, put something better into it! Same goes for your church.