Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Blessings and Challenges of Ministering in the Small Church (Part 1)

One phone call can cause the small church pastor to completely alter the course of a week. One family moving can devastate a youth program or the church budget. One family moving into the church can be a springboard to a revitalized children’s ministry. One death can send shock waves through the congregation. One angry or disgruntled parishioner can cause a tidal wave of discontent. One conversion experience can ignite the spiritual flame of the church. Such is the life and ministry in the small congregation.

The vast majority of Presbyterian Churches are smaller churches (I believe that most Christian Churches in the U.S. are smaller churches). Our seminaries do a horrible job of training people to pastor smaller churches (or larger churches for that matter). “Home headquarters” (as a retired Army Coronal friend refers to Louisville and the General Assembly) are so out of touch with the smaller congregations that it is an embarrassment. A Presbytery can be a friend and ally to the smaller church or it can be a “pain the ass” for the smaller church. What is the small church and the small church pastor to do?

Thank goodness for groups like the Willow Creek Association, Purpose Driven Presbyterians Network, Outreach, Inc., and Saddleback Association. These groups provided ideas and resources that “work” in all congregations.

Over the past few weeks I have had several conversations with pastors of smaller congregations. Our church situations are different, yet similar. These pastors were from several different denominations. The small church pastor’s emotions can range from euphoric to mildly depressed—this emotional swing can take place in a matter of days or hours. These pastors were concerned with the aging of their congregations. Most of the churches were plateaued or declining in membership. All of the churches struggle with location issues—poor church locations make the churches invisible to the communities in which they are located. Budget constraints make advertising and marketing almost impossible. Yet, these congregations strive to be a witness to the risen Lord in their communities.

We live in a time when large churches seem to be springing up all over the place. Several years ago my brother and his family moved from north of Seattle to a development just north of Tacoma. His family settled in at a fairly large Presbyterian Church in their area. The church is a great church with a fabulous pastoral team (way to go Jon and Neil!). Brad and I have had conversations about the numerous large congregations in the greater Tacoma area. These churches have great facilities and programs. Most have strong pastoral leadership. Several of these churches are “planting” daughter congregations throughout the area. The big churches keep getting bigger and the small churches keep getting smaller—or so it would seem.

The small church is here to stay.

There are many challenges facing the smaller congregation and its pastor. The challenges may be great but the rewards are even greater!

The next few posts of FullCourtPresby will be taking a closer look at ministry in the smaller congregation and the pastoral challenges in serving in a smaller church.


At 3:08 PM , Blogger Red_Cleric said...

When I was in Hawthorne Nevada, We had 10% of the average attendance vanished in one week. A family of five moved.


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