Our Discouraging Small Church
Dear Aunt Sevvy,
My wife and I just moved from southern California to a small city in the Midwestern plains—a work transfer. We’re very Adventist. So we went to church (the only church for an hour in any direction). Almost everyone was old. The Sabbath School class plodded through the lesson, though with criticism of nearly everything, from “liberals” to differences of belief to politics. The sermon was the old bummer about how bad the world is getting—and it was deadly dull. There was nothing for children.
They were excited to have us, and immediately tried to give us church jobs. But it quickly became clear that we would be allowed to change nothing. We’ve gone back for several months now, and as much as we try to tell ourselves that we should stick with it and make it better, we just don’t have the energy to fight the inertia. What should we do?
Signed: Lonely for California
You have Aunt Sevvy’s sympathies. This is a tough position to be in, and you’re not the only one facing it.
Here are some ideas:
Idea Number 1: You can continue to attend a church that doesn’t excite you, but be there in a sort of “close your eyes and think of England” way. Sometimes you can even learn to love a church that you didn’t at first if you just give it a chance.
That won’t always work. Aunt Sevvy once spent many years in a toxic church and found that it caused more harm to her faith than good. If that’s what you find happening to you, find another alternative rather than letting your faith erode and grow resentful.
Idea Number 2: You can stop attending church altogether since there doesn’t seem to be a lot of Adventist options for you. However, yours sound like a family that prioritizes faith, and no church at all may be just as sad as one you don’t like.
Idea Number 3: Or, you can attend another, not-Adventist, church in your area—instead of, or in addition to, the Adventist one.
This would be a big decision for you and your family. We Adventists are territorial by nature. We have some built-in, often irrational, prejudices against other brands of Christianity. Yet what if you can maintain your Adventist faith and still get some blessings by associating with another denomination that fits with your general Christian values, and provides you with more fellowship than the available congregation does?
Idea Number 4: Finally, I’ve known people in your situation who have started their own fellowship or house church. They’ve discovered that by creating a small gathering—actually a more biblical idea than formalized worship in custom-built church buildings, by the way—you will discover there are others, even people who aren’t Adventists, who are willing to meet on Sabbaths to worship together. (It’s quite a lot less intimidating to come to someone’s house than to their church building.) Small house gatherings like this can be quite fulfilling and feed the soul. (There’s a church-approved support network for doing this called Simple Church at Home.)
None of this is easy. However—and I hesitate to say it, lest you think I’m just being trite and giving cliché advice—sometimes God sends us hard experiences, that when we get through them we realize that we’ve grown spiritually. Auntie has had that experience at times in the last 2-3 years. This may be that kind of experience for you.
I pray you can pray your way through this.
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—always without your identity. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.