In a school veggie patch, where I volunteer there is a small girl, a very small girl, a very determined small girl. When there is a job to be done she pushes up her sleeves in a business-like way and steps up. She always picks the biggest spade. The longer the handle, the bigger the mouth the better, it seems. So armed, she attacks the ground furiously and to be truthful, most of the time not a lot of dirt is moved.
Other children, annoyingly tall for their age, are always telling her to go and get a smaller shovel. When she hears these words, all the time pretending not to hear, her face screws up and she hunches over into a ‘I am never going to go and get a smaller shovel’ position – because we all know that the smaller shovels are really toys that only Kindies use. She is very definitely not a Kindy.
She runs harder, she climbs higher, and dares more, because she is small. I don’t even know her name yet, but I am full of admiration. It is no good saying that size does not matter, it does, but she is never going to let being small hold her back. Never! When I grow up, I want to be just like her.
Small is not something people generally want to be. It has negative connotations. When it is applied to churches people fall to: limited resources, aging remnant, few people with too much to do. I am sure you could add your own list of negatives.
There are draw-backs to being small, but there are also advantages. It is harder for people to be lost in a small congregation, Small congregations are more intimate. People have a higher opportunity to participate. Again you can, and should, make a list of positives. What is good in your place? What is positive about your congregation? How can you celebrate these things – not only in your head right now, but Sunday by Sunday in your congregation?
No-one is going to dictate to my young shovelling friend what her life will be like based on her size, though maybe there is a shovel somewhere between toy and super-sized that would make her life easier and her efforts more effective. I am waiting for smart to catch up with determined. What a day that will be!
What would smart look like at your place? What does it look like? My guess is that it does not involve trying to act like a big church or congregation, but delighting in who and what you are and drawing on the strengths this offers.
What does smart look like to me? I’d like to say that in a small congregation formal worship isn’t everything, though I have yet to find a small congregation that agrees. Maybe we need to be on the lookout for the right-sized shovel – the way to gather that will make our lives easier and what we do more effective. I suspect you will find some clues in the list you just made. If you are a family sized church, how do families operate? How do they make decisions? How do they celebrate things that are important? The way that families do things give a clue to the way small congregations can do things.
She may yet surprise me, but right now, my most enduring memory of my small gardening friend is the look on her face when she has climbed higher than anyone else in the veggie patch mulberry tree. Imagine that for a minute.
Small had everything to do with it.