On Tuesdays at noon, I have my smallest, most fruitful small group. It’s me and a mom who’s got a kid in our church preschool. She brings her newborn infant who sleeps the whole time. We were trying to start a Bible study for our preschool parents. I stood at the door to greet parents and hand them flyers for this Bible study three different times so far. There was another mom who came once or twice. But she hasn’t been in a few weeks. So it’s basically just two people talking about the Bible together. And for the last two consecutive weeks, we’ve had two of the most amazing spiritual conversations I’ve been a part of since I got to this church.
At first, we were making soup each week to serve the Bible study participants but a lot of food was going to waste. So now I just announce the Bible study on a dry erase sign up in the entryway and tell people to bring their own lunch and check in at the front office if they want to do it. I’ve been instructed before not to waste my time with ministries that aren’t “bearing fruit,” but even if I get pressured to shut this thing down, I’m not going to, because it is fruitful even if there’s only two of us.
Several ministries over the past year that I’ve launched have completely flopped. We had a jobs ministry called Between Successes that went strong for about three months, but then thankfully half of the people coming got jobs and our momentum was gone. We tried holding a Wednesday morning prayer service that had 4-5 attendees for a while, but after Easter, it dwindled down to 2, so we said we would look at different possible times to reconvene it, but there hasn’t been enough buy-in to make it happen.
This past January, I held a brunch for young adults to try to start a ministry. About 10 people showed up. I was really excited so I started planning follow-up activities that nobody responded to. The idea went completely dormant. Then one of the young adults showed up at church for the first time several months later and said, “How’s the group going?” So I tried again. We had a lunch meeting in the spring to try to relaunch. We decided to call the new group “The Rock” and took a picture of all of our hands touching a rock wall. I asked them what time they wanted to meet; we picked a time; we never had more than 3 or 4 people actually come; it lasted about a month.
So I figured the preschool parents’ Bible study was going to be the same flop as everything else I’ve tried to do in this impossible Northern Virginia environment (I’m so ready to be in an appointment where life is boring and slow and church is the only game in town!). Two weeks ago, nobody came, so last week, I made sure I was at least available at the church, but I assumed it would be a no-go. About 12:10, I got a buzz in my office that someone was there for the Bible study.
I had initially planned on doing a series of Bible stories for the study curriculum but since it was just me and this preschool mom, I decided that we could talk about the passage I would be preaching on that weekend (it turned out I wasn’t preaching last weekend but I didn’t realize it at the time). I can’t really capture in words the way that God spoke to both of us as we talked. I wasn’t really the teacher. God taught both of us. Last week we covered Ephesians 2:1-10. This Tuesday, we talked about the parable of the talents in Matthew 25.
God basically gave me my sermon material for this weekend through this one-on-one conversation. I’m used to having one-on-one conversations in a pastoral care setting where I’m focused completely on being there for the other person. But these conversations are completely egalitarian. It’s not a pastor and layperson talking, but two disciples trying to discover God’s truth. It was really beautiful what God showed us today, and there really wasn’t anything creepy about the emotional chemistry. As a male pastor, I am acutely sensitive to that in one-on-one conversations I have with females.
Today when I prayed at the end of our conversation, I asked God to bring more people if He wants them to come and to help me discern what I can do to attract others if that’s His will, but I also thanked Him for the abundant fruitfulness we had experienced in a small group of two. It is very hard not to beat yourself up about numbers-related questions in a moderately large church that is fairly quickly becoming a small church. The only thing I hate about my job is all the pressure I feel to do something about our church’s declining attendance. I don’t think we should be dismissive or aloof about it. We need to make a good-faith effort to diagnose what we can and respond accordingly. But I’m pretty sure that anxiety only exacerbates the decline, and I can’t tell you how much anxiety I’ve felt over the past year.
So I’m going to savor the fruit and rejoice in it wherever I find it. Maybe if enough of us enjoy the fruit that we encounter then people will get excited about God again and invite their friends to church. Somehow I have to trust God to provide the results and just be obedient. Anyway, thanks for today’s lesson in fruitfulness!