The haves and the have nots
We live in an unequal world, a fact heightened by technological differences in the latest lockdown. Here are ways larger churches could support smaller ones in a way that blesses both. By Michael Shaw
When things stared to open up after the first Lockdown last year, I was in a zoom call with several other ministers (all Baptist). When I expressed some concern about acquiring PPE for myself for cleaning the loos, another minister said he had to do the same for the church cleaner. I thought nothing of it, until another minister pointed out that this was the difference between smaller and larger churches: one has a cleaner the other doesn’t.
One of the main factors in shutting schools or not has come down to access to technology. For some children, although home learning might be difficult for parents who are trying to hold down jobs while working from home, they have the equipment to get access to the classes provided. By contrast, for families on the margins or in deprived areas, the issue is far more about access to laptops and tablets, and whether their houses have home broadband. They have a major hurdle to climb to simply just access the online lessons schools are providing! They are the have nots.
Technology is at the forefront of many of our churches minds at the moment. Suddenly every church is trying to offer some form of online option, but while some are doing slick “This Morning” style, sofa services, others are making do with a basic Youtube pre-record, where halfway through there's a chance the dog decides she needs some attention (this has of course never happened to me).
We have technology have and have nots. With online church unlikely to go away, this is always going to put smaller churches at a disadvantage.
But it has been this way for years. While larger churches have professionalised their children’s work, their youth work, they have a team of pastors, including a worship pastors, smaller churches are lucky to have a pastor. Those that do often often have to share that pastor either with another church or another vocation (I am not a fan of the term bi-vocational - it is an oxymoron).
The other factor is that many of those smaller churches are often in the poorest parts of our nation. The so called church growth movement has not actually grown the church, it has just grown some churches. In America, mega-churches have increased exponentially in the last 30 years, but the number of Christians has reduced. While we in the UK have probably not seen such dramatic growth in church size, the fact is in most deprived areas of our nation you would be hard-pressed to find a church with more than 100 regular attenders (and yes, the comments section will need be full of exceptions to that rule!)
My wife used to be a declutterer before we had our daughter, and for a time the TV was full of “hoarder next door” TV shows. We watched as people lived in houses that they had so much clutter that they had to make cardboard corridors. In some ways this is happening to churches - I believe some churches are hoarding talents.
So what can we do? Well here are some suggestions in which larger churches can fruitfully release their resources to support the ministry of smaller ones:
If you have more techies then you know what to do with - why not lend one or two to a smaller church?
The same with worship leaders and musicians
If your church pays above stipend, why not pay the same amount to another church to help pay for ministry there?
If you have an associate pastor (or more), why not lend them to another church for two days a week?
If you have a young person you think might be suitable for ministry, why not encourage them to do an internship at a smaller church?
Why not offer your youth group to another local church to lead a service every month or so?
Instigate an annual walk to church Sunday, where you encourage your church folk to walk to their nearest local church
The fact is that smaller churches can pay back bigger churches by allowing ministry gifts to be explored. A few years ago a local church leader asked me what to do about a young woman in their church who had expressed a call to ministry, but they had no capacity to help her explore that gift.
I said - lend her to me for a year. So that is what we did.
Five years later she is about to complete her training for ministry, and we have been her church placement. I genuinely believe that, had she stayed in the larger church, she might never have had the opportunity to explore that call, and would not be about to complete her training.
If we truly understand the nature of the Kingdom of God, that Jesus taught us all about, then we should never have the situation where some churches have, and some have not!
Image | Sašo Tušar | Unsplash
Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church in Plymouth
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