An elderly woman walked into the local country church. The friendly usher greeted her at the door and helped her up the flight of steps. “Where would you like to sit?” he asked politely. “The front row, please,” she answered. “You really don’t want to do that,” the usher said. “The pastor is really boring.” “Do you happen to know who I am?” the woman inquired. “No,” he said. “I’m the pastor’s mother,” she replied indignantly. “Do you know who I am?” he asked. “No,” she said. “Good,” he answered.
There are times when we’d just as soon others not know who we are. It seems the more time passes, that attitude is becoming the norm. I was involved in a three-way conversation a few years ago in which we were discussing a nearby mega-church. My comment to this small group was, “The problem with that church is you can go there and get lost in the crowd.” Another person chimed in while chuckling, “I was just going to say, the good thing about that church is you can go there and get lost in the crowd.” I guess it all depends on your perspective.
I pastor a very tiny congregation as congregations go. We average less than twenty in worship. On a good day, we’ll hit thirty. I know darn well there are people who will never darken our doors because we’re such an intimate gathering. People want to be anonymous.
Two of our regulars tell their story this way. “We used to drive by the chapel and one of us would say, ‘We should try that church.’ The other would reply, ‘If we go there, everyone will look at us.’ We decided to try it one Sunday. We walked in and everyone looked at us.”
I’m a terminal introvert. I would love to be anonymous wherever I go (especially to worship). I’ve worked hard over the years to overcome that malady. I’ve found, however, that one simply does not overcome it. What I do is deal with it and labor to keep it at bay. I do so to make sure it doesn’t interfere with the benefits of my social life (especially in worship).
Worship is part of the communal gathering we call “the church.” To go and not be a part of the community is antithetical to the meaning of a corporate service. That’s why mega-churches are big on small group ministries. They don’t want people to get lost in the crowd. Small groups are vital to the life of the church. The gathering I serve has a distinct advantage. We ARE a small group, like it or not. No one is anonymous—ever.
I invite you to attend one of our worship services. No matter where you sit, you’ll be in the front row. Just a warning, however… I hear the pastor is really boring.
No worries, though. We have an excellent pianist, and the congregation is a joy. Come join us (but don’t expect anonymity)!
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]