Relationships are as expensive as they are hard to measure in terms of financial worth. There is no economic scale that can make relationships quantifiable. You can’t predict how much time or effort or money a potential relationship might cost. And yet the small town small church resources are inherently bound up in relationship.
What does this mean for the small town small church? It simply means that there is no such thing as wasting God’s resources. I had a conversation with some brother pastors once where we discussed how each of our churches might approach adding another worship service. And these men—good men, Godly men, all of them—each suggested that a certain number of attendees would be prerequisite to having that service. If X number of people would not be in attendance, then it wouldn’t be worth the pastor’s time, the planning effort, the money spent on heating/cooling the building. It would be a waste of God’s resources.
That is “economy of scale” thinking, and for many churches in many cities it would be a good decision born from wise stewardship. But the “economy of scale” ministry model does not work in a small town, because everything is about relationships, and relationships are expensive. Relationships are expensive to initiate, the cost must be paid up front, and there is no guarantee of a return. Yet in a small town that is precisely the cost of ministry.
I’ve been asked to perform a number of non-member funerals over the years. Funerals are hard to do well, especially for someone you don’t know. The relational investment in a non-member funeral for myself as a pastor is staggering and immediate. The cost to my congregation is specific and measurable. And yet both my congregation and I are willing to pay the cost. My congregation lives for a few hours or days without the services of the pastor for whom they pay a salary and I spend relational time with the family in order to bring them God’s comfort. To be the visible, tangible Body of Christ. To reach out with the Gospel.
And the really amazing thing to me is that my congregation does not even seem to recognize how very odd it is to pay their pastor to be unavailable to them for a period of time. I don’t know that it’s ever occurred to them to do anything else; to suggest that I limit my pastoral services to only those places where a return on the investment is sure to produce church growth. I don’t think that they’ve ever considered that such a thing wouldn’t be worth our time. I can guarantee that no one has ever suggested such ministry is a waste of God-given resources. Why? Because that’s just the way we do things here. It’s the way we relate to one another in a small town. We care for one another. We invest into one another. We shoulder one another’s burdens without a thought or care of whether that investment pays dividends or not.
In a small town small church, there will always be many things that seem inefficient. That look like money being frittered away without a investment payoff. That look, honestly, like a waste of God’s resources. But not to us. To us it looks proper and right. It looks like people come first, money comes second, and the only good use for the latter is to help the former. That’s how small towns work. Relationships. Expensive investments that don’t always pay the dividends that money managers would like to see.