People with chronic illnesses are familiar with the Spoon Theory, an illustration of restricted energy. In her writing, Christine Miserandino describes her limited energy by giving her friend twelve spoons. Each spoon represents an activity. Simple tasks like getting dressed or making the bed can cost one spoon. By the end of the day, no “spoon”, or energy, remains.
This illustration is a reminder that people with limited energy must make decisions on how they will spend their energy for the day. If they push themselves too hard one day and run out of spoons, they must borrow against the next day, leaving less energy for tomorrow.
Similarly, some of our churches only have so much energy and resources. Unlike churches that have huge membership or endowments – or unlimited spoons, small churches with limited resources have so many spoons for the day, week or month. No longer do they have a plethora of liveliness and warm bodies like they did back in the 50’s or 60’s.
With only so many people to serve on a number of different committees, a small number of the lay persons in our communities will spend countless hours working on programs. Eventually they will find burnout.
Which is why small or limited churches must remember they are human institutions filled with human bodies. Even though churches and people are limited, God is not. Therefore, this is a time for us to turn to God in discernment. Instead of beating ourselves up wondering why we only have so much energy, we should ask ourselves “Where does God want us to spend our time?”
By this discernment process, we aren’t spending the energy and resources we don’t have and burning out our entire congregation. Instead, we are focusing our time, talent and treasures in ways that God is calling us.
This may mean ending certain groups that have been a piece of the church’s life for the past 50 years. A fundraiser that worked well for our church ten years ago may not be bringing in the money anymore. Is it time to try a new way of raising funds? It may mean restructuring the governing boards. People in our churches will grieve old ways of being church. They will lament as they discard of programs that their parents created. But maybe by letting go, we can find new life. Maybe it is like the Jesus story: when Jesus the Christ released his spirit, he found new energy through the resurrection.
Similar to a person with a chronic, energy-depleting illness, a small church is not a dead or dying church. There is plenty of life in that congregation. The Spirit’s breath continues to flow. But before exhaustion takes away our breath, now is the time to stop spinning wheels and squandering energy and listen for the still-speaking God around us.