Friday, January 22, 2010

The Call to be Small?

We live in an era of megachurches. I currently go to a church that has 100-130 people worship every Sunday--and that's considered a small church, by our denomination's standards. But I used to go to a church where regular Sunday attendance had dwindled to 40-50 a week.

I've been thinking about these things after reading this post. And here I read Di's experience of finding a Lutheran church that's working for her. And my spouse has spent several weeks wondering if we've lost our way in terms of reaching out to the unchurched. And I've been wondering at what point a church becomes too big.

There are disadvantages to being a very small church, like my old church, especially when most of those members are over the age of 70. There just aren't as many people to do things. If you're a family, there's likely no youth group, perhaps no Sunday school.

There are advantages to being small. Want to offer a cool arts program that the church hasn't done before? Want to preach? Want to experiment with changing the liturgical space? Want to teach a song? Want to bring in your band to accompany the service? Anything, everything is possible, if you're part of the kind of church that's so grateful for someone who's willing to do something that they'll listen to your ideas.

And the best benefit is that the members really know each other. At a Christmas Eve service at my old church, I looked around and realized that I knew almost every face—more, I could connect a name with every face, and for most of those names and faces, I knew a bit of the person’s history. How rare this is, I thought. What a gift to have a church home where I actually know almost everybody.

Of course, the downside is that many church members will be mourning the past days of the church that are no more, and likely won't come again.

My Broward-Bahamas conference (a Synod district, a smaller part of the Florida-Bahamas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is currently meeting and trying to envision a different way of doing church. Do we all need to run a Confirmation program or could we have regional Confirmation groups across the county? Does each church need to have its own separate office? How can suburban churches help urban churches help the homeless? Could we dream even bigger dreams?

Most of our churches down here are land rich and member poor. We have some churches that are down to 20 members. That probably can't go on much longer. With the recent collapse in property values, our churches aren't even as land rich as they once were.

We live in interesting times. I know that some people aren't convinced that the mainline churches are collapsing, and some of them aren't. It's hard to ignore the national and international statistics though. Evangelical and Pentecostal churches are growing much faster than others.

Where will it all lead? I have no idea. And it's not really up to me. If I believe what the Scriptures tell me, I have to believe that the Holy Spirit is at work and moving in the world. god has a bigger, better vision for the world than I could ever dream up. I'm heartened by stories on people's blogs of the churches they've found and the acceptance they feel (there are some great stories of work-life balance from clergy women with children here, if you need some more reasons to feel good).

Tomorrow we meet again as a conference group. What visions will we weave?

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