First off, I love all kinds of churches. I have sung and spoken in a variety of churches across the board. Large ones, lively ones, quiet ones, and tiny ones. I’ve sung in churches with the coolest sound and light technicians, and I’ve shared in congregations where I’ve done my own sound from the pulpit. I love all kinds of churches.
I get a sick feeling when Christian brothers and sisters try to do the whole #mychurchisbetterthanyours thing. As the body of Christ, we are the church. We are one body worshipping the One True King, our Father.
My husband became a Christian and grew up, both spiritually and physically, in what would be considered a mega-church. He has some of the most wonderful memories there. Chris and I met when we were teenagers, and I loved going to his church with him. The activities, the worship music, the Word that was preached–it was awesome. The church of his growing-up years has reached innumerable people and places around the world with the message of Christ because of their wonderful blessings and resources. They are a beacon in our community and our state.
I did not grow up in a mega-church, although I attended one in my college years. The church that I attend now was actually my home church growing up. With the exception of some years that my dad was the Minister of Music at other churches and excluding the times we have been sharing music and words with other church families, I have been at Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Corner Road every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night when the doors opened.
And I know I’m not alone in this. All across America, people attend small churches. These churches dot the landscape. Their spires and steeples reach toward heaven, pointing to the Father of a united body of believers. Inside their walls are stories of redemption, of tears, laughter, and–yes–tradition.
Tradition does not have to be a scary word in churches today. As long as we are not slaves to tradition, the values that shaped our church history are still blessings to us. We can still follow the Holy Spirit’s leading and prompting and honor some traditions of our past.
Even if you attend a large church today, or a new, un-traditional church (which is awesome–there are wonderful ones in my area!), chances are you have been a part of a small church body at some point in your life.
My church is growing. As a matter of fact, I don’t even think we are a “small” church at all anymore. While we are no mega-church, there are new people and new programs being prayed over every week. Some of the things that shaped my thoughts of “church” when I was a child are not done at my church anymore, sometimes because we are simply growing into a bigger congregation.
For those of us who were raised and guided up in a small-town church, the following things may bring back sweet, sweet memories; they may bring a laugh; and they may still be happening in your church family today!
Here are 10 things that I remember when I think of growing up in my small-town church:
1. The congregation sang Happy Birthday to you.
At the beginning of the month, the pastor asked all those who have a birthday in the month to stand up. When I was tiny, we even got to go and stand in front of the church and put our offering in the special church-house offering bank. Then the congregation would sing Happy Birthday to us. Hey–we’d even throw in a round of Happy Anniversary as well!
As we’ve grown, we now simply stand on the first Sunday of the month and the congregation claps for us when it’s our birthday/anniversary month. I stood last Sunday for my birthday, as a matter of fact. 🙂
2. You called adults Brother or Sister before their names.
I’m sure someone much smarter, wiser, and just more knowledgeable than me can explain where this custom comes from. We still call our pastors and ministerial staff “Brother” before their names. I’ve even been called “Sister Paige” several times in the past, at my church and many others.
Like I said, I’m not sure that I could explain why we do this, but I think of my Christian family as what they Bible says we are: brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore, we call each other so. While my church family doesn’t call each and every person “Brother” or “Sister” formally, we think of them as family in our hearts, and definitely treat them as loved ones.
3. You know all of Robert’s Rules of Order.
From the Church Business Meeting, of course. In other congregations named the Church Conference, this practice is how many churches make decisions. And we don’t just come into the room shouting out opinions and preferences…we use Robert’s Rules of Order. How many of you remember holding your hand up or yelling out “aye!” to pretend-vote as a child and thinking you were really doing something special? 😉
All those in favor, let it be known by an uplifted hand.
4. You got married and had the reception at church.
Many couples now opt to have their wedding/receptions at gorgeous venues that celebrate nature and seasonal offerings, but if you grew up in a small-town church, you may have chosen a different route.
The bridal tea, the pantry party, the rehearsal and dinner, the ceremony itself, and the reception was all held in one location: your church. Plus the fellowship hall. Which brings us to…
5. You use the fellowship hall for EVERYTHING.
Bridal teas, baby showers, birthday parties, anniversary dinners, graduation parties, you name it. If you need a spot to celebrate, the fellowship hall is your place. Our church, though we are growing steadily, still has a very functioning fellowship hall that we use all the time. It’s such a wonderful resource whenever we need it.
6. Nothing can excite your hunger like a church potluck dinner.
This was definitely something that my husband was not used to when we got married. He never could figure out my need to be up front in the line when we had an after-church fellowship. I mean, you can’t miss out on Ms. Ruth’s chicken casserole or Ms. Peggy’s chocolate cobbler, okay? And if you’ve got to stand your ground in line, so be it! 🙂
Seriously, though, there is just something so special about sharing a table, sharing a meal, and sharing fellowship with your church family. My church still “fellowships” over many things, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, church plays (finger foods after the musical), Summer Ice Cream socials, and special speakers and preachers.
7. You know exactly who Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong are.
These ladies and their work are just part of your Christmas and Easter offerings. You also know about Home Missions, Foreign Missions, and the International Mission Board (if you grew up in a Southern Baptist denomination). You can recite the Royal Ambassador pledge for boys, the Girls in Action pledge for girls, and you have the badges to prove it. You know the pledge to the Christian flag and the Bible, and memories of Vacation Bible School come to your heart as you recite them.
8. You used to (and still may) call the Worship Service “Big Church”.
When I was a tiny child, we actually had a part of our service called “Children’s Time,” where the kids went to the front of the church for a lesson from the pastor. While all of our parents watched us. Then, we went right back to our parents in the pew.
We started a new idea almost 30 years ago called Children’s Church, where the young kiddos had their own Worship Service in another area of the church. From this tradition came the habit of calling the adult service “Big Church”.
Now, honestly, I don’t know if Big Church is a small-town church thing or if it’s just a Mt. Zion Church thing, but this almost-34-year-old still calls the Worship Service “Big Church”…and so does just about everyone else at church!
9. You remember a place called the Cry Room.
Ours has long-since been converted to a Sound/Media Room, but way back when, it was a small room where Mamas could take crying babies and still listen to the sermon without disturbing the congregation. Before Children’s Church, it was a place that many a child longed to go, but many a mama said “Nope. That’s for the babies.”
10. You were in a Youth Group.
Most teenagers these days do not identify with a term called “Youth Group,” which is perfectly fine. This term has been replaced with Student Ministry, Student Praise Team, or cool things like Studio 312 or The Encounter. I think those names are wonderful, and they are changing with our changing times, but I will always remember my time as a teenager in the Youth Group and Youth Choir. On school breaks, we even went on Youth Trips and Youth Retreats. Our leaders were called Youth Directors or Youth Ministers. We put the word Youth in front of everything! My memories with the Youth Group are some of the best ones of my life. The accountability, growth, and learning that I gained from my Youth Group shaped who I am today.
I know there are many things I’m leaving out. I could probably go on for quite a while about Sunday School assembly, going “visiting”, church picnics and festivals, changing the attendance numbers, putting money in the jar because you were running in the sanctuary, and church rallies. And I can’t forget singing in Psalty 1, 2, and 3. Probably 4. Many of you who are reading this still may take part in the things mentioned above. My church still does some of them, along with new traditions as we are led.
I wouldn’t trade my upbringing in my small church for anything. I knew every day–and still know–that behind the traditions, the sayings, the programs, is a loving family. Yes, a family. My church family loves me and has supported me throughout my life because they love the Lord.
No matter how much our building will change, no matter how many people will come and go, one thing will always remain the same: our primary focus will be to serve God together and tell others about Him.
When I look at this picture of my church as it was over 30 years ago, memories flood my heart. I can almost taste the crackers and koolaide from my earliest memories, offered to me by the most loving hands. Hands that dried my tears in the nursery and guided me through the Scriptures as a child. I can smell the waxy crayons and paint that I used in an activity that someone spent hours planning in order to show me the Word in a new way. I can still feel the polished pews from the old building, the one that many men and women scrimped and saved to fund and build. I can see the excitement on everyone’s face and hear the cheers as we broke ground on our new Sanctuary, and then our Family Life Center over a decade later, and then most recently a Children’s Building. I can hear the hymns of the ages–that never grow old–as they are sung by saints gone on to Heaven. And most importantly, I hear the voice of my Father, through the love of my church family. He’s whispering to me…
You belong here.