Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hope for Small Churches

This summer I had the privilege of teaching a class at Nashotah Seminary for some of the Doctor of Ministry students.  The subject was Leading Strong and Vibrant Congregations and I had a great time with the nine students.

One subject of some interest was leadership for small congregations.  Two of the students led “cluster” ministries in Montana and North Dakota.  They were looking for some good news about small congregations.  As they noted in class, most of what is written today about small congregations, less than 50 on Sunday, is not very hopeful. 

Fortunately, I was able to share with them some of the things that I had learned about creating healthy and growing small congregations.  Fortunately for me and the rest of the class, both of these missioners were involved in very creative and productive work in the small churches in their clusters.

What is cluster ministry?  This usually refers to the creation of a common ministry by combining two, three or four smaller, family size, congregations into one ministry, although I think the format works best when a pastoral size church is in the cluster.  This allows a diocese to create a “team” approach with clergy and lay staff who work with the local leadership to provide better support than their smaller size would allow.  In some places this approach is called “Total Ministry” because when successful this requires a greater development of the leaders of the congregations along with a stronger understanding of the baptismal ministry of all the people.  This last aspect is something that all congregations, no matter what size, could grow in doing.

The health and vitality of smaller congregations is of critical importance to the future of TEC because quite honestly we are rapidly becoming a denomination of smaller churches.  One trend that I have observed and pointed out over the past decade is that the number of pastoral sized churches, 75 to 150 ASA, is decreasing.  Some have gotten larger, but most have decreased.  Since the pastoral size church can usually support the services of a full-time ordained clergy person, this means that those that have declined cannot.  I consider finding creative ways to provide ordained leadership to these smaller sized churches to be critical for the future of our community.   

Those who want to learn how to help smaller congregations become healthier and more vibrant should read Kennon Callahan’s, “Strong, Small Churches.”