Coasting is Compromise: Becoming a Proactive Small Church

Typewriter picJust when you think you’re ahead of the curve, the curve moves.

My parents gave me a Smith Corona typewriter when I went off to college in 1978. It was electric and portable. I was ahead of the curve.

Then one day, I saw a crowd gathering outside a classroom. They were staring in amazement at a fellow student’s homework assignment. As I got closer, my eyes beheld it – a term paper created on a computer.

The edges of the pages weren’t as smooth as mine, since they’d been torn from a paper feeder. And the typeface, though futuristic-looking, wasn’t very easy to read, coming from a first-generation, dot-matrix printer. But at that moment I knew my Smith-Corona’s days were numbered.

Buh bye, said the curve.

Most Small Church pastors know that feeling. Just when we catch a glimpse of the curve up in the distance, the curve says buh bye and takes off again.

What’s a Small Church pastor to do?


What Not to Do

Small Church pastors tend to make one of two mistakes when we fall behind the curve.

1. Try to compete with the big dogs. Most Small Churches can’t afford LED video screens on the stage or motion-sensing hand dryers in the church bathrooms, no matter how important the latest conference speaker says they are. We’re just hoping this week’s offering can help us pay salaries and keep up with facility maintenance – if we have a facility to maintain, that is.

Trying to keep up with cutting-edge, big-church gadgets on a Small Church budget is a losing strategy that will end in frustration, burnout and bankruptcy.

2. Dig in and declare that our way is the “right” way. When we can’t keep up, some of us convince ourselves that not keeping up is theologically correct. It’s a stand for righteousness.

It may just be laziness, but we cloak it as a refusal to compromise with worldliness.

Uh huh. Cuz Jesus would’ve used a Smith Corona, right?


Adapting ≠ Compromise

Adapting to newer methods doesn’t need to break the bank. And it isn’t about compromising with a sinful culture.

In fact, I’ve become convinced that, not only does adapting not increase the likelihood of compromise, it usually reduces it. As long as we’re adapting for the right reasons, that is.

The wrong reasons include trying to be cooler than the next church. The right reasons include recognizing that people don’t receive information or inspiration the way they used to. We don’t live in a Smith Corona world any more.

Adapting to new methods to tell the old, old story may be our greatest defense against unbiblical compromise. Why? Because the greatest danger of compromise comes, not from being pulled forward, but from the almost invisible magnetic appeal of coasting along with today’s comfort and yesterday’s methods.

When we choose to move forward, we’re more conscious of the change and its inherent threats. When we stand still, we’re less aware of the dangers. We need to recognize that the world is changing. Instead of clinging to the past, coasting in the present, or chasing the future, we need to do what the Apostle Paul did – use the best methods available to communicate the gospel’s eternal truths.

For example, you and I are communicating through this blog. Blogs are so new, I didn’t know the difference between a blog and a regular website less than a year ago. The term “blog” (short for weblog) only came into existence about 15 years ago.

So why am I using a blog? Because most Small Church pastors can’t travel to seminars and conferences. Many can’t even afford a copy of my book. But most of them have access to a computer, so a blog lets them get all the info they need for no cost, at any time. This new technology is nothing more or less than the best available way to communicate the message.

Adapting to new technology hasn’t compromised my message. Not adapting to it would have – by limiting who has access to it. And no, it didn’t break this Small Church pastor’s bank, either. Total start-up costs were less than $100. It took a lot of time, but almost no cash.

When we properly evaluate the current needs of our culture and take steps to meet them by repackaging the message, we’re less likely to coast. Coasting is compromise.


Proactive, Not Reactive

For most of history, experience was the primary asset a pastor brought to a church. Not any more. Now, adapting is more important than experience.

And it ticks me off. Here I am in my 50s, with several hard-earned decades of experience under my belt, and now, all that experience matters less than it ever has.

It’s not that experience is unimportant. It just needs to be funneled through our ability to anticipate and adapt in order to capitalize on its value.

But adapting isn’t about being reactive. That’s the challenge many of us have when we worry about compromise. It isn’t about putting our finger to the wind, then giving people “what their itching ears want to hear”.

Adapting is proactive. It’s about paying attention to the people God has given us to pastor. Both inside and outside the walls of our church.

It means noticing how young people communicate so we can join the conversation. It means recognizing the schedule of parents who both have to work full-time jobs, then finding a way to help them ease that burden. It means paying attention to seniors who’ve lost their spouses, and helping them get out of the house to make new friends.

We don’t need more money or gadgets to pay attention to people’s needs. And it’s not a compromise of the gospel message to meet those needs in innovative, new ways. It is the gospel.


So what do you think? What would it look like if your church was more proactive and less reactive?

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(Typewriter photo from emanisof • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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2 thoughts on “Coasting is Compromise: Becoming a Proactive Small Church”

  1. Excellent Karl. We also have to KNOW the culture of our community and our church. For example, my community, if I had to guess, is VERY different from your community. We live in the mountains of Appalachia – my husband says we’re about 20 years behind the times here. lol (which we like by the way)
    They still play Lum and Abner on the radio here!! (Let’s see how many know what that is!)
    We don’t have Starbucks – we get our coffee at BP or McDonalds or Jiffy Mart – where it’s free if you get gas.
    Just until a couple of years ago, there was a gas station up by our church, that still pumped your gas for you and washed your windshields as you waited. (I miss that)
    Our young people are up with the times – yet, they’re different too. They don’t need laser lights and whistles to have a good time…a night of playing board games or the Wii – is good for them.
    Our culture, our community is VERY tied to their heritage and their roots (even the young people) There are even efforts now, community based, to try and teach the younger generation HOW to do some of the older things…just to survive (like gardening and cooking)
    One pastor, trying to help a family in “need” was giving them food (like bags of potatoes) only to find that the family was THROWING THEM AWAY. Why? They didn’t know how to fix them – they were so used to only eating convenience foods.
    So, you could say, that it’s important to KNOW your own community. What may be “adapting” in the suburb may not be adapting in the rural area.
    Just this last wknd I gave a workshop on Saving Money. We taught how to make your own laundry soap (saves oodles), couponing and economic gift giving. Our church runs around 30 and we had 15 ladies in attendance – some wanted to come but couldn’t – and 3 weren’t from our church. They LOVED it. We’re going to have another in May…a Do It Yourself money saving workshop. They’re really looking forward to it. Our coupon workshop leader is in her early 20’s – this young group is all about saving money. That meets a great need in our area.

    1. I couldn’t have said it better, Cindy. Know your people and your community first. Then adapt to the method that gets through to them. You’re doing it. Thanks for sharing that.

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