Some months ago, my wife and I shared dinner with a couple serving a small church with real needs. The husband is the solo pastor of a congregation located in an economically disadvantaged community, and our conversation turned to the challenges of ministering under these circumstances. His wife is one of those people who knows how to ask penetrating questions well, and her question of the night was, “Why don’t churches share?”
For those like me who could be potentially miffed or self-righteously offended by this question, another way to ask it is: Why don’t churches share more? With one another?
I spend a lot of my time working with churches on the smaller end of the attendance continuum, churches with between 80 and 200 people attending each week. I am a member of a larger church with four services and attendance over 1,000, and I am quite familiar with churches that are much larger. The pastor’s wife’s question during dinner resonated with me. I’m aware of some churches of all sizes that share a lot, and I’m aware of many churches that share nothing or next to nothing with any other church. We occasionally give away our cast-offs but certainly not anything new or still useful to us.
Money can buy things, but money does not do ministry. People do ministry.
In general, I see two kinds of churches: those that have things they could share and those that might be able to access those things if they would only make their needs known. My church is generally on the things-we-could-share side; my pastor friend’s church is on the needs-to-ask side. I am sure there are churches that have both things to share and needs to be made known.
Where your church is on the continuum and where you want it to be is something to talk about. I always thought that small churches needed more money to meet their needs. And they certainly do. But I’ve learned in recent years that they also need people. Money can buy things, but money does not do ministry. People do ministry. It’s my sense that most churches that consider themselves to be generous base their generosity claims on giving money or used stuff rather than giving or sharing people.
Let me provide ideas to help frame this conversation, for churches on both ends of this spectrum.
If you are a church with needs…
- What are your needs, specifically? Make separate lists for things that are needed (material needs) and work that needs to be done (people needs). Be exact about the costs of things to be purchased and about the scope of things you need people to do (with whom, how many people, how often, for how long, etc.).
- What kinds of relationships do you have with other churches in your area and their leaders, especially those of your own denomination or group? Who can you ask for the real, tangible help you need? Are you so busy doing urgent things that you neglect the importance of building such relationships?
- Our culture worships independence and doing things on our own, without help. Are we willing to express our need for help, humbly and gratefully? At the same time, ask: How can you ensure that you don’t become excessively dependent on the generosity of others?
- How can you, as a church in need, also share with others?
If you are a church that can share…
- What are you able and willing to share? Will you share generously or only during seasons of excess?
- Are you committed to the success of smaller, struggling churches in your community? Do you think or behave, consciously or subconsciously, as if you are competing against them?
- Are you willing to share your people or only money?
- What churches in your area have needs that your church could meet? Who might ask you for the real, tangible help that you can provide?
- Would you be willing to adopt a church, at least for a particular season, to invest in its potential to reach people for Christ?
In my many discussions with church leaders, I have found that there are a number of needs that often come up in conversation. Consider the following practical and frequent needs that many churches may have.
- Children’s ministry. Some of the most overworked people in Christendom are children’s ministry workers in small churches. They desperately need a break. Does your church have volunteers who could serve once a month in another church’s children’s ministry to give a brother or sister in Christ a week each month to worship with his or her church family? Likewise, could your church or members of your student ministry group help a small church present a first-rate vacation Bible school or similar event in the summer?
- Guest preacher. Solo pastors often preach week after week without a break and often have few, if any, other leaders in their church who can give them a much-needed respite. Does your church have any accomplished or budding preachers you can share?
- Facility updates. Many pastors in small churches are working to “revitalize” older congregations so that the church can remain viable and appealing to changing demographics and communities. It’s hard to attract younger, unchurched people when the facility and its furnishings resemble great-grandma’s attic. Can your church help with funds for carpet, roof repairs, painting, minor remodeling or audio and video support?
- Furniture updates. I recently sat in one church’s chairs for a while and my behind hurt. Badly. Thirty brand-new chairs would cost less than $1,000 and would certainly eliminate a real pain in the…
- Website maintenance. So many small churches have obsolete, outdated information or poorly designed websites and don’t have the funds to hire a web designer or anyone in the church family who can help maintain a basic site. Could your webmaster invest a few hours in cleaning up the website of a church in need?
- Workday support. Small churches that maintain older properties can face significant difficulties in doing so, especially if the congregation tends to be older rather than younger. Could your church provide workers (especially skilled workers) for a workday at such a church?
- Worship leaders and musicians. Does your church have a surplus of musicians or worship leaders you could loan to a church for a week or a month as needed? Do you have any amateur but still talented musicians who could occasionally help a smaller church while gaining much-needed experience?
If I’m being honest, I feel guilty writing this article. My church and I have so much to give, and I’m not sure we are doing enough to help my brothers and sisters who are leading struggling churches nearby.
Please give this article a thought, and let me know what you are thinking in the comments section below. We can do so much more for the Kingdom if we truly do it together—and together means your church and mine. Share everything—that’s something to talk about, and it’s something to do.
How does your church share its resources well? What have you learned about church-to-church generosity? Share your experience in the comments.