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Scattered throughout any community are tiny, struggling churches.
If you blink while driving past them you’ll miss them. Or they’re eyesores — run down, weather worn.
In my 20 years covering local religion for the newspaper, I’ve gotten to know the people at some of these little churches.
Why don’t they admit defeat, close up shop and go somewhere else? And, why do they stay together?
I’ve always been part of churches that are so big that I don’t know half the people, and so I don’t understand a tiny church’s dynamic or mentality.
Recently, I visited a small church in the community. The pastor, a woman, has been in this church since before she was born. Her great-grandfather was its founding pastor. The church has gone from 400 people to just a faithful few, and hers is another church that I’ve wondered why it still exists.
It all comes back to what the church is. If it’s just a place to wear your new clothes, to sing a few songs and learn a few principles to make your life run more smoothly — well, you can do that anywhere. Or not do it at all.
But if it’s a family reunion, if it’s the place where the people you count as your brothers and sisters come together each week to practice your common family traditions, to learn about and celebrate your common faith and your Father’s love, then whether you’re few or a few hundred or thousand in number, your church is a precious place.
The size of the membership doesn’t matter as much as the size of the love the people have for one another.
One of my most cherished parts of going to church each week is sitting in front of Harry and Charlotte Austin. At the end of the service, after all the songs and the offering, after the sermon and God coming and loving us, after the pastor’s final prayer and benediction, every week I turn around and say, “Good stuff, huh Harry?”
If he and Charlotte aren’t there, I miss them. I miss saying, “Good stuff.” If I’m not there, I miss it, too. I think that’s the way church should be. I think it makes Jesus happy.