September 27, 2016
A small but mighty congregation may have some advantages in a shifting religious landscape.
What a great article. I consider my local church to be one of those "small but mighty congregations," whose members achieve much even if little of it is ever publicly reported or trumpeting (as it should not be for the most part).
I read a brilliant little book by Brandon J. O'Brien called "The Strategically Small Church," where he basically took what you're saying here to the next logical step: that we should actually strategically--that is, for the sake of our kingdom mission--remain small so that we can capitalize on the peculiar benefits of doing God's work in small congregations. Our own church (a nondenominational/independent evangelical congregation in a rural community) is a relatively small congregation, but also a very diverse one. We came to this congregation from another small rural congregation that was failing, though, and one of the things that I've observed is that while size doesn't matter, constitution does.
In our former church, probably better than 60% of the regular attendees were involved in at least two non-worship functions of the church life. But then, when your average attendance is less than 30, you HAVE to be. And that was the problem: not everyone in the congregation was equipped to do the work that needed doing. Better than 90% of that congregation was over age 60, and most were beyond the age of "heavy lifting" in both the physical and administrative sense of the word. So it ended up being a small church with engaged members who simply weren't diverse enough to get the job done--at least not as the institutional congregations of that particular denomination require. And so I fully expect that within the next five years, that church will probably shutter its doors, and its members will relocate into other congregations.
But I personally think that's okay, because to me it seems like the church would be better served by losing certain senescent congregations and assimilating their members into other congregations, where they would add precisely the kind of diversity that is most needed to prevent smaller churches from dying in the first place. If the Church (capital C) is a Body, then we should expect to see this kind of continual reallocation of unproductive resources.
As for the congregation we're with now, they embrace the church planting model that says that once a church has reached a certain level of growth, it's supposed to begin nurturing a pilot congregation to go out and prayerfully plant a new congregation in another community. It's the first time we've been a part of a church like that, and I'm really interested to see the dynamics as they play out in practice--and not just in theory.
Why does Barna not measure/evaluate growth in the practical-working-wisdom of a common Christian mind, political consciousneess and latitude given to he Holy Spirit in empowering the lesser gifts of healing, deliverance and the like along with the greater gifts of culture formatiom? Numbers growth is flawed by what it omits. Service flexibility is a flawed concept when it is talked about only as it relates to the church as an institution if worship. What has happened among Christians that permits the fullness of redemption to be eclipsed by one-dimensional evaluations?
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