Small Can Be Powerful

Small Can Be Powerful

I work with a number of smaller member congregations these days. I have learned they can be a gift to the whole church, when they find specific ministries that reach out to their community and partner with neighboring congregations to focus their ministry not on what they don’t have, but what God has given them to witness to communities of need, and diversity. This is important because over 50% ELCA churches worship 75 or less in worship. Small churches are our new norm and focusing their ministry with neighbors in the faith they can be a real gift to the church. But that depends upon whether their number one need is on survival and their own needs, or whether as church together they can be a blessed community for all.

A Biblical witness of how small churches together can have a mighty effect on the mission of the church is the simple story of a woman who is baking a loaf of bread. Matthew 13:33 (KJV) says, “Heaven’s Imperial rule is like leaven that a woman took and concealed in three measurers of flour until is was all leavened.” Yeast is a very small ingredient, but when it works it’s process it raises the loaf to feed many people. As small congregations work together communities can be revived and the congregations themselves can find renewed energy for God’s work.

The competition among churches that once dominated our landscape is largely gone. (I hope…) Those days created a barrier to cooperation especially when members moved from one church to another increasing numbers for one and diminishing the other. Now we have an opportunity to create a new paradigm. It is to see the church not as one location, but several different buildings in neighborhoods that together is seen as a whole ministry with various needs and opportunities to be the church together. Area ministry is a developing understanding in the ELCA that utilizes the gifts of a variety of congregations and pastors to be a bold witness to God’s love TOGETHER. Everyone has at least one ministry focus that contributes to the whole.

Instead of peering inward to a smaller member congregation in survival mode and focused only on keeping the doors open, every congregation, small and larger has a note to play in the symphony that rings out new music that rings out to our neighbors in various ways. It reminds us over and over again what our mission is: to proclaim Christ’s Love and Compassion to a world of hurt and pain.

In closing, let me recommend a book I just picked up from the publisher Rowman and Littlefield. “Facing Decline, Finding Hope” is written by Jeffrey D. Jones and I find it very encouraging for churches open to change and refocusing their ministry.

So, I invite you all to a new day in the life of the church. Look around you and start the conversations. And, if I can help to encourage that, let me know.

Pastor Ron Zoesch, Interim Director for Evangelical Mission