As I wrote last week, I grew up in small country churches. We didn’t have staff members, a digital billboard or even a paid janitor.
We did have janitors, though. Each week, a different family was assigned that duty. When it was your family’s turn, your parents would bring you and your siblings to the church to mop, dust and empty the trash. I think they now have laws against child labor. But we also worked at home and on the farm, so working at the church was normal. And we had to make sure we cleaned as well as the family who did it the week before.
We took pride in cleaning our church. I have lots of fond memories of growing up in a church like that.
This week, I want to share 10 things I liked about growing up in a small country church:
1. Everybody knew everybody: Each Sunday was a family reunion. I knew the people in the church better than I did my own relatives. We met on Sunday morning, Sunday night, at someone’s house after church on Sunday night, Monday night visitation, Wednesday night prayer meeting and then again on Sunday.
2. We celebrated everything: From birthdays to anniversaries, from baptisms to graduations to funerals—every event was attended by all. Most of all, we celebrated people. No matter who you were, if something special happened in your life, it was special to us. I remember my Aunt Donna giving me a quarter for being baptized. If I’d known money was involved, I would probably have been baptized sooner.
3. If you weren’t there, you were missed: Nobody sat in your pew while you were gone. In a small church, we became creatures of habit. Yes, each Sunday, we all sat in the same pew and didn’t dare change God’s natural order. When a visitor showed up and sat in our seat, we felt like the Holy Spirit had left. We weren’t very good at hearing God’s Word if we were looking at the preacher from a different angle.
4. I was the youth group: Oh, there might have been one two other people, but for the most part, everyone was either older or younger than I was. It is difficult to divide up for small group discussion when there are only three of you.
5. When you hurt, everyone else hurt: I was 9 years old when my mom lost her third child, a little girl, during delivery. This was my first time to experience the pain of death. The church came alongside our family and mourned with us. They held our hands and hearts and walked every step with us during those difficult days.
6. Everyone had many jobs: Even as a child, I was given the task of handing out bulletins, taking up the offering, cleaning the church and, on occasion, I even played the piano on Sunday nights. By the time I got to high school, I was a Sunday school teacher. We didn’t have enough people to fill every position, so everyone played multiple roles.
7. The church was cross-generational: Even if your grandparents attended the same church, every other senior adult also become your grandparent. Having multiple grandparents speaking your worth and value into us shaped many of our lives. And everyone else? They became our aunts, uncles and cousins. We were just family.
8. Youth camps were different: While the big-city churches went to fancy camps, we would go to smaller ones. For us, Arts and Crafts meant painting the camp director’s house, and the tabernacle was more like a sweat lodge. Maybe that is why so many kids got saved. The room was as hot as the place the preacher kept talking about.
9. You knew what to wear: In those days, you had only three types of clothes; no, make that four. You had your school clothes, your work clothes, your play clothes and finally, your church clothes. Wearing the wrong clothing at the wrong time was equal to breaking one of the Ten Commandments. The only exception was if you got a new pair of bib overalls, you could wear them to church.
10. Church was the best place on Earth: There was not a place on Earth than was more of a sweet spot for my life than that small country church. We didn’t have much, but we had the Bible and a commitment to be the body of Christ to one another.
I may have moved away from that small church and ministered in some of the largest churches in America, but inside, I am still that little boy who longs to find that place again. God bless our small country churches.