Staying Faithful

Written by Corey Magstadt : October 24, 2007

On Sunday, a woman and her third grade son walked into our church service just as the first song was beginning. As they made their way to their seats, I saw her perusing the morning’s bulletin. By the end of the first song, they stood up and made their way back out the door. As she passed, she apologized for leaving but said that she needed better programming for her son than we offered.

I am the pastor of a small church (seventy or so people) nestled in the shadows of four evangelical churches with attendance in the thousands as well as numerous other very large Lutheran, Catholic, and Presbyterian churches. We simply do not have the capacity or resources to do everything, as many of these churches do. And most of the time, I’m okay with that. I have no desire to compete with the large churches in the area and don’t desire to be a consumer-driven church. For the most part, I can convince myself that the large churches have their niche in the community and we have ours. But at times like this, when the lack of a certain program visibly caused someone to walk out the door, I get frustrated.

Being a church that attempts to be faithful to the subversive teachings of Jesus will inherently cause many to turn elsewhere for a church that can better meet their needs and desires. Yet if we would simply capitulate to the consumerist tendencies of the people in our community, we might have more opportunities to introduce them to the world-transforming love of Jesus.

Do you ever struggle with this tension? Do you ever feel like throwing it in and just “doing church” like everyone else? How do you find the energy and the hope to keep going?


Corey Magstadt is an (almost) graduate of the M.Div program at Bethel Seminary and has been the lead pastor of The River Church in Chaska, MN for the last six years. In 2001, Corey graduated from Crown College with a B.A. in Pastoral Ministry. Corey, his wife Lori, and their children Jaron and Lily, focus their ministry alongside the suburban poor who live in one of the wealthiest communities in the state. Corey also provides leadership for Christ Zombies, a youth ministry and concert venue which has profound impact among area teens. Corey is mainly interested in writing about practical elements of incarnational ministry within a suburban context. Corey also blogs at

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10 Responses to “Staying Faithful”

  1. Rebekah on October 24th, 2007 3:31 pm

    Our 4,000 member church is in the process of getting rid of the programs and changing to hubs instead of one big building. Hang in there. You don’t want the people who go to church for the programs anyway.

  2. Richard Daley on October 24th, 2007 6:13 pm

    I’ve struggled with that some as well. I try to look at it from a service perspective. This woman’s son is a priority for her, which I can support to a great degree. There are some things that we can’t do ourselves which, quite frankly, are good things. I do believe that our best response in those situations is to help guide people to those places where those things can be done, and to support, whenever possible the work of those places.

  3. Nate Bettger on October 24th, 2007 6:41 pm

    I commented on my site… but yah, I totally get it. It is so, so, soo difficult not to rate our success by the traditional “marks” of success that we have grown up hearing. It gets depressing if we do. The radical changing that is needed is such a lonely and challenging road. It feels really good to know that we ARE NOT alone in this.

    Good thoughts, Corey.

  4. geoff holsclaw on October 25th, 2007 3:46 pm

    What Richard Daley said is right and should be emulated. But often I want to pull out that scripture about shaking the dust off your feet and calling judgment down…

    But really, our church is always struggling with this. We’ve had many leave the church b/c we refused to create programs for their kids. But on the flip side, we have had a bunch of families come to our church b/c we refuse to have youth programs.

  5. Maria Kirby on October 25th, 2007 8:20 pm

    Isn’t there a way the churches in a particular geographic area could support each other, so that the programs of one congregation could aid and be aided by the programs of another? I’ve mentioned this idea to some, but it seems like there’s barriers of accountability and competitiveness. If we’re really going to be the Body, don’t we need to figure out how to work together as the Church, not just the body at our particular church?

  6. AriahFine on October 25th, 2007 9:39 pm

    I totally understand the lady too, she was looking for something in particular.
    I think the problem is that you looked on face value like most other churches whose doors she walked through, and when she browsed the program and things (like she’s probably done in other churches) she didn’t see what she was looking for. Maybe the disservice you did her was not to not have programs, but rather that you didn’t run out the back and talk to her about what it was that she was looking for, and explain why your church was not only different then ones with typical programs, but different then all the other thresholds she’s crossed on a Sunday morning.

  7. Jason Barr on October 25th, 2007 9:49 pm

    Maria, I wonder if that might not create an atmosphere where churches that don’t have programs like that, particularly churches that don’t have those sorts of programs for conscious reasons, would be excluded from the conversation or dominated in other ways by churches that DO have such programs. I think there needs to be a more widespread consciousness within the church that being the church is NOT about programs. I’m afraid your suggestion might further the consumer-complex church problems it seems like Pastor Magstadt may be confronting.

  8. Mark Van Steenwyk on October 25th, 2007 11:17 pm

    I struggle with this, for sure. We have two sorts of visitors to Missio Dei’s Sunday gathering:

    1) the people that are “briefed” by someone from Missio Dei before they ever attend a gathering

    2) people who just drop in

    I could be wrong, but over the past three years, about 200 visitors have dropped in on our Sunday gathering. I don’t think a single one of them has stuck around. However, many of the folks that we had a prior relationship with first have stuck around.

    The thing is, Missio Dei does church so outside of convention that most casual visitors think it royally sucks. But those who know what we’re trying to do, or those that have been the recipients of our hospitality, like what we do on Sundays.

    Lesson: In our case, Sundays are a horrible place for first contact.

  9. corey on October 25th, 2007 11:19 pm

    Maria -
    In our community we do this to some extent. We have recently created a “clearinghouse” of sorts to do a better job meeting the physical and spiritual needs of people in our community. When people call the clearinghouse, they are given a list of ministries that each church offers: food shelves, gas vouchers, counseling services, diapers, oil changes, etc. It has been fun to see our city lay aside some of the competition in order to work together for the good of those in need. Another example is our Christ Zombies youth ministry which is technically a ministry of our church yet has people from four different churches on the leadership team. However, there is still the assumption that every church’s main gathering/service ought to have all of the bells and whistles. That assumption is really hard to shake.

    Ariah - That’s actually what I usually do. If the person still isn’t interested, I do my best to take Richard’s suggestion and direct them to places I know that have what the person is looking for. This time I happened to be caught in the middle of something I couldn’t leave when she walked past me so our opportunity for conversation was pretty limited.

    Jason - Just “Corey” is fine :-)
    Thanks for the interaction!

  10. Maria Kirby on October 26th, 2007 9:57 pm

    I’m a little confused over the notion of ‘not having programs for conscious reasons’. It seems to me that an organized getting together of Christians for a particular purpose constitutes a program, even if it is only three people. Silent meetings with Quakers is the closest I’ve come to being in a un-programmed Christian gathering, (which I don’t think is what most emergent churches are practicing).

    I like small churches. I grew up in small churches. I’ve attending large churches. I think large churches have their place, just as small churches do. Even when attending a large church, they still didn’t have everything I needed; there were still limitations on how and when I could serve. There was still a limit to the large church’s resources.

    You said “I’m afraid your suggestion might further the consumer-complex church problems it seems like Pastor Magstadt may be confronting.”

    Am I a consumer if I need church? If I need a group of people who can minister to a particular need of mine or my family? I know it’s good to reciprocate for the benefit received, but what if what I’m getting from church is making it so I can give, or be more loving towards those who would never step inside a church or open a Bible? and I really don’t have anything left to give back to the church? Isn’t that what we want to accomplish with church, to be Christ to others so that they can pass on the love they receive to the world?

    To expect that those who attend our programs would give back to us or our organization would be like parents asking their children to care for the parents needs. As part of the maturing process we do ask our children to contribute to the family, like setting the table or washing dishes when their older. Even as a homemaker, I don’t think it appropriate for me to expect the equivalent contribution to the home from the bread winner because I want to enable the bread winner to contribute to the world. I visualize the pastoral staff and the programs of the church as enabling the bread winners to reach the world for Christ ( and in today’s society that probably doesn’t mean increased Sunday morning attendance or more donations either).


    I’m really encouraged to hear that you have a ‘clearing house’ co-operative arrangement and a multi-church led youth group. You are miles ahead of most communities that I know about. I wish I could encourage you about a church’s main gathering. While I think that there is a real opportunity for churches to collaberate musically or theatrically, the main gathering of a church is a significant culturally defining practice, and I while I value diversity very much, diversity would not be possible if culture were not preserved.

    I wonder what hurts worse, the lady’s prejudice or your church’s limitations? I would like to remind you that it is through our limitations that others see God, and he gets the glory. And that the lady’s prejudice is not your responsibility to change. May God give you the grace to continue in the vision he has given your community. It sounds like some amazing things are happening there.

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