lessons for small churches

Lessons From The Hart of Dixie

My wife and I just got done watching a series about a New Yorker who moves to a small rural southern town.  I liked it because I have always liked the South.  She liked it because of the relationships.  The theme of the show is how this big city girl doesn’t fit in to this very small, tight southern community. The whole plot of the show is her trying to figure out how to fit into this community she has found herself in.  To me, I saw the analogy to small church almost immediately.  I have watched from afar and been part of trying to fit in to a group that has been together for a long time.  Have you ever tried to awkwardly laugh at a group’s inside joke?  Have you realized you’re about the only family that doesn’t have extended family all around them?  I have.  I’m pretty good…and persistent at trying to fit into the group.  Not everyone is and it’s easy for them to back away from all the walls we inadvertently put up around our little churches.

 Lesson 1: Welcome them in. In the beginning of the series our intrepid New Yorker walks into the main square of town and only one person is there.  Baffled, she asks him where everyone is.  He looks at her like she is crazy and says, “It’s Sunday, they are all in church!”  I want to find that town and be the minister!

A whole town that attends church together.  Wouldn’t that be amazing? For the people who fit in it would, but what about the outsider?  What about the new person?  Would they feel welcome and accepted? What if they sat in the sacred pew that Mrs Smith has sat in for the last 200 years?  What if they didn’t sing the song right?  What if they didn’t come to church in the accepted dress code of our congregation? Would we still welcome them or push them out? Before you pat your back too hard, I bet it’s happened at your church without you ever knowing it.  Most guests don’t ever tell you why they don’t come back.

I have found that small churches are wonderful at being friendly to guests, but not so good at helping them become a part of our nice comfortable little group.  They are the New Yorker and we’re the small southern town.

Lesson 2: Give the church time to embrace you. Eventually, our New Yorker proves herself and become a part of community.  Again, just like our small church setting.  If you can last long enough to be accepted, small churches will embrace you warmly.  But it takes a while to win their trust, they are slow to use a person’s gifts who hasn’t been one of them for long enough.

Small churches have a way of life that is sacred to them.  I’m not talking theology, I’m talking relationally.  They can truly be a family, a source of strength, and so much more.  It may take a while to get deep enough into the life of the community, but once you are there it’s a great place.

Church, one of challenges you have to overcome is allowing people in.  It’s not up to you who is good enough, who has the right color of skin, or who come from the right side of the tracks.  It’s your job to show the love of Christ to all who seek Him.  That means things might get shook up a little.  You might have to move out of your favorite pew, you might have to let that “outsider” in.  Love them as God loves them.


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