For the past five or six years, when our family gathers for vacation together, we attend the little church. The quaint building is nestled in a grove outside the town where we stay. We first went there for the historic, confessional sense of the church's name. However, that seems to have mostly faded from its memory.
Still, I like going there. No one knows me and I have never been asked what I do. Every year when we show up, they do not remember us from the previous time. That's a nice feature when you're on vacation. The lack of recollection is not because we get lost in the crowd, as they regularly only have a couple dozen in attendance and our family increases attendance by around fifty percent. Nor is it because they are not friendly, as they seem genuinely happy to see us and laughed one year when my grandson hugged another child during the children's sermon. Perhaps it's because they are mostly older and, like the name of their church, faces also are harder to recall.
The signs of their decline are seen beyond the small and aging numbers. They are clearly grasping a bit for ways to grow and be relevant. The big screens seem out of place in their small sanctuary. So does some of the contemporary music among their elderly members. Their pastor with his family of small children have left since the last time we were there. The bulletin says a consultant is coming again to discuss the future of their church. A layperson came up to lead in prayers that were long on anecdotes and short on kingdom focus. The young student preacher pressed too hard to be welcoming and humorous. As I sat there, I wondered how often this scenario is repeated across the land. I felt sad for them.
But I still like going there. For we were warmly welcomed (again!) like first time visitors. A call to worship was made. Sin was confessed. Christ's death and resurrection were proclaimed as our only hope. God's name was praised. Sincere prayers for one another were expressed. Offerings for the poor in the community were collected. The Scriptures were read. The Word of God was preached. The benediction was given.
It is good for my soul to step outside my normal circles on occasion and see other parts of the kingdom. In being in their midst, I was reminded that wherever the humble gather, the Lord humbles Himself to behold them (Ps. 113). And the Biblical truth captured below in the confession my church follows, one I must not let fade from my own memory, was pressed on my heart. No matter how small, fractured, or impure a church grows, if they are in Christ they are still Christ's. We should honor the saddest, smallest churches as such.
This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them. (WCF 25.4)