In Praise Of The Little Corner Church - A Great Untold Story

In Praise Of The Little Corner Church - A Great Untold Story

by Alex McFarland


A church congregation functioning at its best is a beautiful thing to experience. I was recently reminded of this while attending a funeral service. My heart was stirred as I watched fellow church members shower the bereaved family with love, prayers, and home-cooked meals. About a week after the funeral, one of the family members told me, "Our pastor has been so faithful, and we've really felt God's love through all of the members reaching out to us. We're gonna be OK."


In this era of televangelism and celebrity preachers, the significance of the humble local church is easy to miss. I think we need to take a second look. Often low-tech but loving, the church is a place where members serve God by serving others. It"s a golden rule of the Christian world: When some one is hurting, be there.


Of the more than 384,000 Christian congregations in America, most number less than 125 worshipers on any given Sunday morning. Most will never podcast their sermons, much less garner prime-time media coverage. Week after week, most churches quietly continue to go about their two-millenia-old mission.


The economy and competition for donor dollars from other non-profits are leaving church offering plates less full than usual for this time of year. A recent study predicts that giving to churches will decrease by some 3 to 5 billion dollars during this fourth quarter. It is estimated that about one third of all families who regularly contribute to a church will donate less than usual this quarter.


Yet in towns everywhere, churches valiantly soldier on. In response to current needs, nearly 40 percent of churches are currently offering financial counseling for those who are having monetary struggles. An estimated 52 percent of churches (both Protestant and Catholic) have programs in place "to provide food, clothing, and basic needs" for those in economic straights.


I believe that America's churches are as important today as they were in 1835, when Alexis DeToqueville penned this famous observation: "Not until I went into America's churches and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her greatness and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great." 


Some today would disagree with DeToqueville. Many would indicate a tacit agreement with the sentiment expressed in the title of Christopher Hitchen's book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. A 2008 poll of 18-29 year olds revealed that nearly 80 percent of those surveyed had a negative view of organized churches. Nearly 90 percent agreed with the statement, "Some one may have a good relationship with God without being involved in a church."

But whenever I get concerned about the church's place in our society I remember that caring about people will always be relevant. I think about people I've met along my ecclesiological journeys throughout America: People like Ed, who voluntarily fitted his pickup truck with expensive devices that keep meals hot which he transports to area shut-ins each week. I think about Joel, a busy college student, but one who for two years now has organized fellow students from his Sunday school class to sing in a rest home each week - just because. I think about Lynn. As a retired international airline stewardess, Lynn fluently speaks half a dozen languages. For years, she has led literacy courses for immigrants and taught ESL classes to hundreds - through her local church.


The church affirms life at every stage, provides fellowship, community, instruction, and care of the soul. Churches carry out their all-important function of teaching people about God, the Bible, Jesus, and salvation. Churches teach people of all ages how to how to worship and how to serve, how to live and how to die.


This season, take in a poorly-performed church Christmas play and appreciate the fact that it was probably funded out of the pocket of the same person recruited to direct it. Join in singing some carols that may be accompanied by an out-of-tune piano, and marvel at the beauty of withered hands which can still play publicly past age 75. Let the minister know that the message inspired you. Thank the ones who have invested their lives in the souls of others.


Make church a part of your Christmas experience this year. Do more this year than just mail a check to an out-of-town non-profit organization. Say a prayer of thanks for your local churches. Better yet, get involved.



Alex McFarland serves as Director of the Center for Christian Worldview and Apologetics, North Greenville University. He has spoken in all 50 U.S. states and internationally, and is the author of 10 books.