Last week, my friend Lonnie Lacy, who is the rector of St. Anne’s, Tifton, and I went on a camping trip to North Georgia for a week of prayers, reading, and fellowship. Before we left, I realized I had left a book at the church, so it gave me the opportunity to show him our building. After looking it over, Lonnie commented, “You know, I really imagined St. Nicholas to be much bigger based on your website and newsletter. You guys do a LOT for a small church!”
Today I was talking to a recent visitor of St. Nicholas who said the exact same thing. Even at Lobsterfest, folks were exclaiming how they couldn’t believe a “small” church could pull off such a big event. What supreme compliments!!! Each time I hear these comments I laugh and say, “I think we need to have the tagline: The small church who does BIG things.”
I think it’s easy for many of us to look at St. Nicholas as a small church. Our building certainly reflects a small church with our crunch for space. We’ll be jumping with joy if our budget next year gets close to $200,000. Our average Sunday attendance has grown steadily each year and we’re sitting at about 80 on an average Sunday morning. We have about 75 to 80 families that attend regularly, which puts our general members and friends list at about 150. But if you judge our size based on who we serve, the numbers increase greatly.
For instance, our Trunk or Treat event on Saturday brought hundreds of people into the parking lot and doors of St. Nicholas. Sheila Dixon told me that in the first hour she handed out 70 little bags of pretzels, and we got much more than 70 in the second hour.
Lobsterfest swelled tremendously this year to 270 attendees, and we could have easily sold 300 dinners for that event.
Anyone who reads the Harris County Journal sees that there are always things going on at St. Nicholas. Even if they don’t know where we are yet, St. Nicholas is now a county-known church, and once the Harris County Recreation Center is built next door, people won’t be able to miss us.
This can be a scary time for a church. Those members who remember when St. Nicholas met in rented space at the Seventh Day Adventist Church reflect fondly on the time when everyone knew everyone. Some people come to St. Nicholas specifically because they don’t want to be lost in the shuffle of a larger congregation. So when a church grows, it can be anxiety-producing for many folks.
Another source of anxiety is that a smaller church expects everyone to pitch in because in order to do big events, it requires everyone’s help. Leadership burnout can happen easily in small churches who are growing. Because of this, some may think we are doing too much for a church our size. Perhaps we’re moving too fast. These are all things for your priest and the Vestry to ponder.
I guess when I think about St. Nicholas, I don’t think of us as a small church. I certainly know cognitively that we aren’t as big as King’s Pasture or Pine Mountain United Methodist or Christ the King Catholic. But I’m one of the few who looks at all your faces every Sunday morning from the altar. When I look out, I see gobs of people. I don’t focus on or worry about the empty seats.
So in all honesty, I would rather be the rector of a small church who does big things than the rector of a big church who does small things. I am supremely proud of the time our folks put in to all they do. I am amazed by the gifts of our individuals and what they can create and accomplish. I am humbled and inspired by the generosity of people who open their checkbooks weekly, monthly, and annually to the work of St. Nicholas. We are a surprising church.
In the book of 1 Samuel, we hear the famous story of David, the underdog, who is also small in stature. But when faced with the boastful and gigantic Goliath, David uses all of God’s gifts to him to confront and overcome the mighty Philistine. In the Gospel of Mark, we hear of how a poor widow gives more in the temple treasury than anyone. God is used to taking seemingly small things and doing amazingly huge acts.
As we continue to do “big things,” let us remember that it is God working through us. Let us be faithful in what we’re called to do and allow it to deepen our own spirits. And let us be hopeful for the future we are approaching.