When You Visit My Church

I’ve been a pastor of First Christian Church of St. Paul for a little over six years. We’ve done a lot as a congregation to try to be more impactful in our neighborhood and to grow as followers of Jesus Christ. But what we haven’t been able in those six years, is get many visitors. It’s not for lack of trying. Some churches get people like crazy, but others don’t.

I sometimes wonder what the visitors that we do get are thinking when they enter our church. What do they see? Do they expect a church with an active children’s program? Or a pastor in skinny jeans? Maybe they think we are active in social justice and going to the next protest after worship? Maybe they expect a music program with a large choir?

I don’t know what the people who walk into our church are looking for. But if they are expecting any of things above, then we aren’t that church.

We are a small church which is something you are never, ever allowed to say.  Being a small church, in a small building means that people might judge you without getting to know you. It might not help that we belong to a denomination that few people in Minnesota have heard of.

The thing is, small churches are not for everyone.  That’s just the way it is and that’s okay.

A few years ago, the pastor of a small Presbyterian church in Virginia wrote a blog post outlining the 12 reasons people shouldn’t come to her church.  It’s an interesting post because it’s so counterintuitive to what church leaders have learned.  We are supposed to be welcoming, taking all comers.  We are supposed to do what we can to make visitors feel welcome.

But this blog post is honest in saying that some churches are not for every one and that’s okay.  Churches can’t satisfy everyone, but church leaders have it drilled into our brains that Churches have to be places that are for everyone.  Here’s a little of what she wrote:

1.We’re small. . . really small . . . tiny even.  And small ain’t for everyone.  Because here’s the thing about small: it really is up to you.  So if you want a church where you can plug in to what’s already going on, slide in and slide out with little fuss, well, we’re just not the church for you, for the fact is that if you’re coming to this tiny church, you will be called on. 2.As a corollary to #1, there is no anonymity here.  There’s nowhere to hide, to be invisible, in a church this size – there just isn’t.  You will be noticed.  You will be welcomed.  And hugged.  And while hospitality is a good thing, not everyone is comfortable with being noticed.  That’s okay.  We’re just not for you. 3.Another corollary to #1, if you’ve got a great idea but no time or energy or interest to implement it, this place is definitely not for you.  This pastor loves new ideas and most times, we’ll all jump in behind someone who’s got one – but, and it’s a big thing – really – if it’s your idea, it’ll be up to you to make it come true.  We’ll help you.  But if it’s yours, baby, you run with it or it won’t happen.

The fact is, there will be people who come looking for strong ministries for their children. But we don’t have them.  The big Lutheran congregation down the road probably does. And I’ll be happy to point them in that direction.

First-St. Paul can’t really afford to do everything to bring people into.  Lot’s of churches around the country face the same issue.  Some people like going to mega-churches because they will be unknown.  I get that.  But this small congregation is never going to be a place where you can hide.

Mahtomedi and White Bear Lake are home to some rather large congregations.  I have nothing against them, but we can’t compete against 1000+ member churches and we shouldn’t even try.

We are not the church for everyone.  No church can do that.  But we are the church for someone. Just because we are small doesn’t mean that we have nothing to offer. Here are a few things that I think makes First Christian of St. Paul a church you or your family and friends would like to attend.

First off is we value diversity. That’s something that a lot of churches want to be, we already are. We believe that the kingdom of God is one that is for all of us and we seek to live it out. This has been part of the DNA of this congregation for decades, when the congregation welcomed refugees from Vietnam. For us, diversity means people of differing races and ethnicities, gay and straight, hearing and non-hearing and so on. We want to a be a place where we try to be welcoming to everyone and we seek to be reconciled to each other.

Second, we value fellowship. We like to eat. Every month on the second Sunday, we gather for a potlucksomeone looking for small gathering of believers who want to do God’s work in the world.  The potluck is a time when we come together and do more than share our food, but also sharing our lives with each other. But fellowship is not just about eating. Fellowship is about sharing our lives together. In good or bad times, this congregation comes together either to celebrate or to mourn. I saw this when we had a regular attender whose only son died of cancer. The church sent flowers and many of the members went to the funeral. It was amazing that the members went to mourn with someone they didn’t know well, but that is what happens at this church. 

Finally, it’s the generosity of the congregation. They give not just money, but of their time as well. I can remember during Minnesota Foodshare month a few years ago when they brought well over 500 pounds of food which was amazing. Just as Jesus gave of himself in his life and death, these people give of themselves to help others. They don’t do this because they are good people, they do it because they want to follow Jesus.

So if you are looking for a place to worship, I hope to see you this Sunday or some Sunday in the future.  If you are looking for a small church we will be happy to have you and we will make you feel at home.  We aren’t the church for everyone but we might be the church for you.

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