By all modern measures, the little church would be considered a failure. It never grew past 50 in attendance. Its demographic was always heavy on the seniors, with only a handful of people under the age of 25. For twenty years the church gathered in a rented facility, a youth centre, and all of the church’s belongings, from the pulpit, to the collapsible communion table, to the hymnals and coffee supplies, fit snugly into a tiny closet. (People used to joke that the little church would be ahead of the game if Christians became a persecuted minority in Canada because it could be packed up in less than fifteen minutes) In the last decade, the church began to die, literally. Every year at least one member went to be with Jesus. With the majority of the members being retired and on fixed incomes, the church operated on a lean budget. As the congregation shrank, the pastor offered to drop down to part-time status to help on expenses. More than one person asked the pastor why he kept ministering there; it wasn’t like he was making a ton of money as a full-time pastor, and now as a part-time pastor he was making bread-crumbs. His response, every time, was so long as people kept showing up, he would continue to pastor. This was a pastor that took joy in ministering to seniors, and in the ever-increasing race for “families and young people” more and more churches were neglecting their elders. This pastor wouldn’t do that to them. Seniors needed pastoral care just as much as young families.
The church was eventually dissolved. 20 years of ministry and it died. It was merged with another tiny congregation.
“Unsuccessful.” Or was it?
It was the church that I was discipled in. While I was saved through a large Pentecostal youth ministry, it was this tiny, dying church that took me under its wing and helped me grow in the faith. The pastor’s wife picked me up from home every Sunday morning, and drove me to church. I learned about being a Christian, and a woman, and a servant during those car rides. I didn’t say much, but I just listened as the pastor’s wife ministered to me through the stories of her life experiences. I learned about serving by helping to set up the rows of chairs every morning, by placing a hymnal and bible on each chair, by helping to put everything away at the end of the service. I learned about suffering and struggle as I prayed with members who were suffering from cancer, dementia, or the loss of a spouse. I learned about joy as I shared in the celebrations of 50th wedding anniversaries, birth announcements of grandbabies and great-grandbabies. It was in this church that I was baptized. It was in this church that I got to cut my teeth on leading worship and preaching. It was by this pastor that I was married, and that my first child was dedicated to Jesus.
The church may be gone, and church growth experts would say that it was an “unsuccessful” church, but they would be wrong. It’s not about numbers.
It’s about proclaiming Christ crucified and resurrected.
It’s about faithfulness.
It’s about service.
It’s about obedience.
It’s about caring for one another and discipling each other.
It’s about changing lives.
And that’s what this church did. It changed the lives of seniors who would have otherwise been forgotten by larger churches. And it changed my life. I learned about the long road of the life of faith, a life that is marked not by successive mountaintop experiences, but by the slow and steady walk of decades of faithful discipleship.