The smell of my grandma’s church is etched into my memory—musty, with a hint of baby powder and perfume. Once a year, this familiar smell floods my nostrils as we join my grandparents for “Homecoming Day” at their tiny church in Small Town America. This is a day the members look forward to for months, for each person brings their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to the service to celebrate a lasting legacy. See, their church is a dying church. On any regular Sunday, the church maybe has fifteen humans in its building. But on these Sundays, there are upwards of a hundred people.
On Homecoming Sundays, the church body reminisces about the ups and downs, twists and turns, highs and lows of the church’s history. Many members have spent their entire lives in those walls. Their marriage vows were said in the sanctuary. Their children grew up playing on the now-rusted playground. Though technology has transformed much of their world, this place—their church home—remains almost untouched. The members are more than friends, they are family.
The concept of staying at a single church for a lifetime seems so foreign to many modern-day believers. It requires staying put. It requires intense commitment. It requires working through change and forgiveness. It requires leaning on the Lord.
In a post-pandemic world, many of us are trying to re-commit to a church, break the habit of watching online services, and finally get plugged into a community again. As many of us are learning to do this, it may be helpful to examine what the generation of church “stayers” has to teach us about how to get involved in the local church.
1. Commit to faithfully attending church.
Just as churches ebb and flow through seasons of trial and triumph, our circumstances will change too. This can cause many people to change churches to be with people that better fit our “life stage.” However, when we are often switching churches, it can be difficult to really get involved in the local church.
Furthermore, there are benefits to remaining with the same group of people. One benefit is that it moves us from being focused on what the church can offer us and helps us think through ways we can give to others. In this way, we can practice, through the power of the Holy Spirit, loving people and loving God well.
Another huge benefit is that our decision to dedicate ourselves to a church body can help us grow closer to God. This is because faithfully staying with the same group of people takes a kind of love, forgiveness, humility, and understanding that can only come to us through the power of the Holy Spirit. In this way, we have the opportunity to learn from one another as we are spurred on and encouraged in our faith. Therefore, showing up for and serving consistently in church matters.
2. Build relationships over time.
Human beings are built for community. In Genesis, God affirms this when He created Eve: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him” (Genesis 2:18). Again, in the New Testament, the author of Hebrews writes, “Do not neglect to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). Yet, often we expect church community to fall into our laps. But this is an idealized picture of relationships. The cultivation of a gospel-centered friendship takes time and dedication, intentionality, and hard work. The depth of community we crave cannot be found in scattered church involvement but in the steady commitment to building genuine friendships throughout the years.
3. Serve in the church.
Do not settle for shallow church involvement. God has so much more for you than that. When considering my grandparent’s church, their legacy is left through daily decisions to show up for one another and for the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20). Find a staff member and inquire about a small group, a team to serve on, or a place to lend a helping hand.
Every church craves commitment from its members, for there is plenty of work to do. Remember the words of Jesus, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37–38). This is the prayer of ministry leaders throughout the world. By your obedience to serve, God is using us to answer that prayer.
4. Be patient and pray for wisdom.
As you get more involved in your local church, you will almost certainly a challenging dilemma in your church. Though leaving may be the right answer for some, it is not always the right answer. Our encouragement in the case of challenging church dilemmas is to be patient, pray for wisdom, and seek the advice of other wise Christians. In all cases, ask God for the strength to be obedient to His will. And finally, remember that spending your time and energy on the Church is a worthwhile investment.
The historic churches marking the corners of Main Streets may not boast the trendiest worship music or host the largest Trunk or Treats, but they do deserve our thanksgiving. But there is a lot that they can teach other believers and newer churches alike. These churches leave a legacy of the commitment, dedication, and endurance of a body of believers.
Stories from my grandma’s church are far from perfect. There have been messy pastoral turnovers, plans that have gone awry, and dreams left unfulfilled. Yet, through it all, their commitment to the Lord, and thus to their church, has never wavered. Christ has sustained them. And He will sustain us too.
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