Monday, August 30, 2010

A Better Script for Small Churches

I have served as pastor of small, mid-size, and large churches. And some of them grew, especially the larger ones. Large churches that grow larger are exciting to serve and provide great stories of success. But 75 percent of churches in the United States and 95 percent in some countries are small and don't grow rapidly if at all. So what do we say about them? Are these small churches the unavoidable casualties of some invisible force at work?

I have looked everywhere for better scripts for small churches. What about a small family business that has no intention of making the Fortune 500 list, but thrives on direct communication, focused product, hands-on leadership, quick adaptability, and loyal workers, while it strives toward the goal of being passed on to the next generation at about the same size?

I use the phrase "dynamic equilibrium" to describe a better script for many small churches. A church in such healthy equilibrium:

  • Is multi-generational because the faith is not just for the present generation
  • Applies the church's own metrics of vitality and faithfulness, such as its capacity to hold diverse persons in a unity of purpose
  • Cherishes its corporate story but wants to write a new chapter
  • Creatively adapts to changes in its environment rather than closing itself off from change
  • Grows in members and stewardship at a pace that offsets losses and increased demands
The drama of a small church is not the drama of growth goals hit or missed, but the drama of endurance — of keeping the faith against incredible odds over extended periods of time.

--Lewis A. Parks

Lewis A. Parks is professor of theology, ministry, and congregational development at Wesley Theological Seminary. He is currently the pastoral leader at Arnold's Church in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania. This article is an excerpt from a lecture presented on the occasion of his advancement to full professor.

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Miss Lladale Carey
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United Methodist Communications

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