Much of the American conversation among church leaders focuses on the challenges in big churches! As I thought about the questions that I see regularly addressed in minister’s blogs, many of them came with assumptions about their churches that were uniquely American and perhaps unintentionally, but nevertheless, big church questions. For instance
- Which is a better kingdom-building strategy, a mother church planting daughter churches, or the multi-campus single church strategy?
- Which is a better leadership model, a staff-led church or a member-led church?
- Is Sunday school still the best model or should the teaching of our children be returned to parents and small groups of parents?
- Worship styles / Seekers worship / and all of those questions.
- Staffing questions: large hired staff versus volunteers—with all the ensuing involvement questions
- Ethnically mixed churches versus homogeneous ones—with accompanying language and cultural issues.
- Leadership issues brought on by generational differences, especially as millennials (and pre-millennials) move toward the first arenas of ministry leadership.
One of the things I love about mission work is that when you are on the real front line of evangelism, it clears the air. I was just with a small church in Scotland. You know, I didn’t hear any of these questions on their lips.
Scotland is a country of about 5 million people with a Christian heritage dating back to the second century, though without much history until the sixth or seventh centuries. John Knox led the Scottish Christians out of Roman Catholicism and into the Church of Scotland during the Reformation, so while there is no established church in Scotland, these are still the two largest groupings.
No, that’s not quite right! While 42% of Scots claim the Church of Scotland and 16% are Roman Catholic, 28% claim no religion. And although 42% claimed membership in the Church of Scotland, the church itself could only account for about 12% of the population as members. The number quoted to me was 2% of the population attend any Christian worship service on any given week.
It’s not that the Scots have run off into non-western religions, which are represented mostly by the Muslims, Asians, and Indians living in Scotland. And, yes, there is a smattering of occult and even blatant pagan religion, but that’s not where most Scots seem to be. No, they just are . . .not religious—secular!–not unusually immoral or uncharitable—in fact, there are charity stores and posters everywhere. And their public schools not only permit, but encourage religious activities and instruction from Christian groups.
I had breakfast with the minister of this small Christian church in Scotland, and I was the guest of a family in this church. Both husband and wife are leaders there as well. And in none of the hours of conversation that we had, did we talk about any of the questions listed above.
Here are some of the topics with which we wrestled:
- What do we do when two of the three leadership families in the church have to move away in the same year?
- How do we give our children what they need when there are only 5-6 children and they are of all different ages?
- How can we reach out to young families when we are so few young families ourselves?
- How can one paid minister (only partially from this church and with part coming from the US) take care of the spiritual needs of the members and reach out to seekers?
- Do we need to recruit workers from America to help out? If so, how would we use them?
- Where will our children find Christian friends? Who will they marry? (All of these questions suggest the difficulty of engendering faith in children who grow up where none of their peers believe, of course.)
- If everybody in the church is involved already, how do we create new growing edges that might encourage growth?
- The church members, though few, come from every direction across the city, so how do we have strong fellowship and ample opportunity for Bible study and prayer together?
- How do we integrate the foreign Christians whom we are glad to welcome, but who bring different perspectives, both from their culture and from their home churches that can be very disruptive?
Now, these are not unanswerable questions—nor are they unique to Scotland, but they do seem to be questions of a more basic nature than sometimes make the headlines among Christian thinkers.
And aren’t most of the Christian churches in the world more like the Scottish than like the mega-churches of America?
It won’t hurt all of us to drop back and make sure we are addressing foundational questions, even as our churches grow!