Many smaller congregations are questioning their viability given program rich congregations that are just around the corner in nearly every community. Smaller churches can, however, flourish if they’re willing to reimagine a God-preferred community-focused future.
Take, for example, a small mom and pop grocer a few blocks from my home in Holland, Michigan. A decade ago this family owned establishment nearly closed its doors. But six years ago an imaginative young couple purchased that aging establishment. Today it's a thriving business blessing its near neighbors. This young couple’s decisions can serve as a guide to small churches looking for new life.
Here are six decisions that can reinvigorate smaller churches
The new owners renamed the store “Central Park Market” to identify with the local community. As part of this rebranding the store began selling locally grown produce. Small churches must do everything they can to identify with the place where they are located so near-neighbors say, “That church is part of our community.”
FOCUSING ON CUSTOMER SERVICE
The local grocer understood that customer service was the key to their future. They now greet people by name, deliver groceries to local shut-ins and place special orders for people with dietary restrictions. Additionally, the store expanded retail hours and now offers a wider variety of beverages requested by customers. Likewise, smaller churches must excel in warm hospitality and finding new ways to address the needs of their neighbors and their neighborhoods.
DOUBLING DOWN ON CORE BUSINESS
For years the local grocer was known for high quality meat cut by an in-house butcher. The store doubled down on this core business. Smaller churches also need to double down on their core business of Gospel-telling and disciple-making.
FINDING A UNIQUE SPACE IN THE COMMUNITY
Central Park Grocer began to look for its unique place. It found it in the cottagers that drive past the store every day. To accommodate a new customer base the owners added bike racks, picnic tables and a small coffee shop. Additionally, suntan lotion, small bundles of firewood and bait were made available for purchase. Smaller churches should identify new outreach opportunities that already exist in their neighborhoods and invest in them with passion.
REFUSING TO COMPETE
The young store owners knew they couldn’t compete with larger grocers and decided not to try. Central Park Market provided a unique place where customers purchase a few items at a time. That uniqueness has been more than enough to help this small grocery store thrive. Similarly, small churches should embrace who they are and invest where they are called while celebrating the wonderful reality that in the Christian community there are many ways Christ addresses the spiritual needs of his children.
Ten years ago Central Park Grocer was a depressing place to visit. Today it's a fun place to enter. There is a tangible sense of hope and optimism born out of a fresh reason to do business. Small churches, too, need to choose joy. Large or small, Christ loves his church and uses her to transform lives and communities for him when she unapologetically embraces her unique calling and lives into her missional future.