Last Friday I attended part of the ELCA Congregational Development Training Conference, which was held in Seattle. I was part of the track that was designed for people from “small membership” churches. It was very interesting (and just a bit surprising) to learn that across the country we find that the majority of ELCA congregations (just under 70%) are no bigger than ours- and a number are smaller.
A pastor from San Diego, Gloria Espeseth, recently did some study of small membership congregations during her sabbatical. She writes,“I have a passion for the small membership church, which continues to be dismissed and demeaned in our “bigger is better” world (and\ church!). I am convinced that size is not the issue; faithfulness, spiritual vitality, vision for mission and sustainability matter. Small membership churches are vulnerable, but so are those which are large…”Small” alone is not an adequate description, since small membership churches vary in dynamics and in their level of vulnerably in their unique situations. They can be a) small and sinking fast, b) small and struggling, c) small and stable, d) small and strong, e) small and soaring.”
Which category would you place Peace, and why? A good question for discussion, no?
Sure, nearly all small congregations would like to grow, but we usually can’t see beyond the numbers. The truth is, there are many biblically-centered ways to “grow”! It was encouraging to hear people insist that spiritual vitality was at the heart of being a faithful congregation- not worshipping a certain number each Sunday! They encouraged us to let go of “not enough” thinking and focus on intentional caring for the well-being of those who are gathered and for our shared mission. Spiritual and relational growth among current members is key.
Another quote that invites self-reflection on the life of our congregation:
“In a culture that is ‘spiritual but not religious’, we have too many congregations that are ‘religious but not spiritual’. That disconnect means that our souls crave something we aren’t getting. Our own spirits are drying up. This reality is increasingly significant because more and more people report that they wouldn’t come to church out of religious impulse but would consider it if church nurtured their spiritual hungers. This means that in order to take the church seriously, these individuals need your congregation to be a place where spiritual journeys are acknowledged and spiritual stories explored.” (The Invitational Christian, Dave Daubert)
I am excited to continue the conversation with all of you!