Rethinking the numbers game
December 18, 2019
This isn’t a story about how a small church runs a big program. It’s not a story about how a small church grows into a bigger church. It’s a story about the lessons a group of adults learned from a handful of children as God challenged the adults to try something new.
It seemed like a Holy Spirit moment when a certified Christian educator with years of experience at large churches volunteered to help us with a kids club at our small church. Since there hadn’t been children in the congregation for at least 10 years, we had no idea what programming for kids was like in the Pinterest age.
Wanting to take advantage of the generous offer, we set a plan into motion. We prayed for children to come, got volunteers and applied for the background checks. We publicized the club in the local paper, in businesses around town and on Facebook. We personally invited the families who had started attending our church. We were excited to share the love of Jesus with the children.
The first night, six adult volunteers prepared crafts, snacks and games for 10 children.
Zero came. I stood at the door, pondering what was going on. Was our discernment wrong? I knew that the children from the church were involved in sports, but did all the children in the community play? Should we have done something else to promote the club? As the pastor, I wondered about the best thing to say to the volunteers.
I made my way to the fellowship hall, where the volunteers were sitting around a table, chatting with one another. I joined them and together we talked about where we saw God working in what we had done so far.
I told them I saw God at work in the number of people who had volunteered and the fact that we now had people with background checks. I then asked how they felt and what we should do next. We decided to try again the next week.
On the drive home, I battled my disappointment. Of course, this wasn’t the first time I’d created a program or a class that nobody had attended. But the kids program was the first time that so much expense and so many volunteers had been involved.
I remembered the passage from Isaiah 55 where the prophet reminds us that God’s word doesn’t fail but accomplishes God’s desires.
When our focus is different from God’s intentions, the result feels like failure. While my focus was on the children, God was forming leaders to do something new for an underserved group in our congregation.
The next week we showed up again, this time a little skeptical. But when a car pulled up with a child we hadn’t met, we were all excited. Luckily, the little girl didn’t seem to feel awkward about being the only child with a group of enthusiastic adults. I was reminded of Jesus’ story about the shepherd who leaves the 99 to go after one sheep, except in our case there were five shepherds.
Rather than be disappointed at a low turnout, everyone seemed pleased to have had an evening of stories and songs and games. Over the next couple of weeks a few other kids came. After our last night together, the adults decided that even though we outnumbered the kids each night, our program was a success.
God showed us that we were capable of doing children’s ministry and reminded us that wherever two or more are gathered in God’s name, ministry can happen. It doesn’t matter if they are adults or children or a combination of each. It doesn’t matter if it’s one person or 100. God accomplishes what God desires, not what we expect.
Sue Washburn, Pastor of Reunion Presbyterian Church in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania
Today’s Focus: Small Church Ministries
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray:
God, you call us to proclaim good news in word and deed. Grant us courage to be brave, bold, imaginative disciples in all we say and do. In Christ’s name. Amen.