Last Christmas I took my kids to one of those churches hosting a Living Bethlehem. I'd gone to one as a kid in a church gym with some fairly cheap costumes. Not this church. They had whole stables, a blacksmith shop, Roman guards, camels, character actors throughout. Then we go inside for cookies and hot cocoa and their kids area has slides and indoor playgrounds.
I texted my wife and went "Their kids area has slides. We'll never leave. Also, do you think we can swing that in our kids space?"
Here's the reality: not many of us are serving in churches with the facilities, space, or finances to do something like that. Most of us are in churches with secondhand supplies, donations to keep VBS afloat, a sound system held together with duct tape and prayer, and too few bodies to fill a volunteer list. It's easy to despair. It's easy to look at our situations, compare them with a church with slides, and throw up our hands and say "Well we might as well close up, we can't compete with them!"
That's where God wants us to be scrappy. I'm incredibly indebted to Thom Rainer and his team for putting together and releasing the book Scrappy Church. The premise is simple: you don't need what they have to reach your community. You have everything you need, you just need to be scrappy.
Scrappy churches look at opportunities over obstacles - Your church may not have a sprawling multi-acre facility, but you might have a parking lot. And you might have a neighborhood around you. Those are opportunities. You have meeting space? Use it. Invite neighborhood groups, host picnics, reach out to your community.
Scrappy churches get creative - I remember one time seeing a megachurch budget and their landscaping costs were more than our entire operating costs. Guess we won't get slides. But what we don't have in the bank isn't stopping us from ministry. Get creative. I'm pumped about an opportunity we had presented to us, for small groups to use water bottles, cookies, flashlights, and other hands-on opportunities to serve businesses and families in our area. Best part? It costs us nothing. Small groups take ownership. That's creative!
Scrappy churches stop making excuses - If you talk to declining or plateaued churches and ask why they're not growing, odds are you'll hear a lot of excuses. "Well the megachurch planted a campus next to us," "Young families don't care about church like they used to," "Our music isn't cutting edge enough (or it's not old fashioned enough)," and the list goes on and on. Scrappy churches don't make excuses for why people don't come or why they're not growing. Instead, they get to work. They do what Rainer calls the Outreach Deluge. They do something.
Scrappy churches invest in relationships & groups - Our denomination had a landmark moment this past summer when hard data was presented that showed we had a problem: our front door was huge (we had baptized thousands) but our back door was bigger (we'd not grown in average attendance). When people visit, join, or connect with our churches, we have to do the work of investing in relationships and groups. If you don't have groups, you won't have a net to catch people. That's why every person who joins our church is put in contact with a Sunday School teacher. Groups are free. You just throw some chairs in a room (our class uses a corner in the fellowship hall), invest in some teaching materials you already had, and train a leader.
Scrappy churches don't give up - It's easy to throw in the towel when it feels hard. I get it. The other day I had a long sit-down with someone who was an encourager to keep pressing on. I needed it. Scrappy churches don't quit. They keep pushing on. They're not scared of failure. Know what you do when something you try doesn't work? You punt and move on. Too many churches and pastors are so scared of failure they never try anything. Not everything will work. And not everything will work always. But you don't give up.
If you've read Scrappy Church, what has it done to bolster your ministry?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.