My wife and I were watching the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives last night when it sparked a thought about church.
If you don’t know the show, it visits mom-and-pop restaurants all over the country. They talk to the customers and show some of the signature dishes being cooked. You generally feeling like you are putting on weight and your arteries are hardening just by watching.
But here’s the part I noticed. Nearly every place they visit has been there forever. The common story line is that such-and-such a place has been cooking the same food for generations. When there are new owners, they always talk about how they didn’t change anything. The customers always include folks who have been eating there for their whole lives.
Does this sound much like church to you? Especially small churches?
Here’s the trick, though. These diners, drive-ins, and dives get on TV and have packed tables. They are like the small church that once had 150 people in the pews each week and still does. Most of our small churches are more like the whole-in-the wall diner that barely stays in business. Sure, the people are friendly and the waitress knows your name. They never fail to serve a meal. But the only ones who show up are die hards.
What is the difference?
The places that end up on the TV show are all – so far as I can tell – in or near big population centers. Last night it was San Diego, Chicago, and Atlanta. So, they have a large audience to find the people who want old-fashioned artery-clogging goodness.
But the food is also great. It is not just chicken and dumplings. It is fabulous chicken and dumplings that is still fabulous 80 years later. “That’s the best (fill in the blank) you’ll find anywhere,” is a common refrain.
Most small churches can’t do anything about where they are. You can’t move to San Diego. But I wonder if more of us (now that I’m back under appointment) could take steps to make sure the things we do are as good as possible.
We fall into the trap of thinking “good” means whatever is new and hot. Little churches try to become little Willow Creeks. What if, instead, they tried to make the best old-fashioned chicken and dumplings ever? If you are going to be homey and small and family-style, can we put our energy into being the most homey, small, and family-style church anywhere around?
I’m not exactly sure what that means. Something different at every place most likely. But it seems like a reasonable goal.