Four “Small Church” Concerns
Rev. Ron Baker, Director, Canadian Small Church Ministry Centre, affiliated with Small Church Connections, and librarian at Eston College
I was born in small town Saskatchewan. While still in diapers, I was taken to church meetings in Kindersley. I was “Ronnie” to the ladies who held me during fellowship times after church services.
A few years after I was born, my father sold the family farm. His career intentions took him to larger towns and cities – in my teens I was living in Toronto, Ontario. Our church experiences were in larger churches. Then we moved to a small town, Unionville, Ontario. The church building was small – we crossed a single lane bridge to arrive there. My baptism was in a farm dugout.
A return to Saskatchewan in 1969 meant another large church experience in Regina. Further large church experiences in Edmonton and Prince Albert brought a comfortable affirmation of the outreach and discipleship that a large church can command.
My training for vocational ministry in the 1970’s included instruction in the “new” church growth movement. I read the books and became convinced of the basic foundation – the church must reach out to others, and in that outreach there would be growth. I’m not so sure I’m convinced of the ways that idea was worked out.
The large church, the mega church, became the goal for an aspiring pastor. Whether intended by the original authors of the church growth movement, the marketing and research base became overtaken by “Larger is Better”. Examples of small church vitality were overlooked, and while some philanthropists and denominations sought to expose those healthy models, their voices were overlooked.
A new day, a new normal, a “COVID thing” is once again raising the head of the small church. I count relationship, accountability, and service as a vital strength of the small church. When large gatherings are restricted, the small church shines!
Plunged into this new normal, I have four concerns:
1. Poor Press: Narratives of adventure, contentment, and security are found in small churches. They come in the form of an individual’s life story, a local group’s desire to aid the community, even a collaboration of small churches to make a large impact. The publication of these stories (in the true sense of the word – to expose to the “public”) needs to broaden and be championed by those with networks of influence.
2. Inadequate Research: Research on small churches is arising and needs to expand. To just get a little “academic” for a moment – scientific study oversees a world of “ones”. Descriptive research finds those “ones” and aggregates their likeness and contrast. Further interpretation is then undertaken to extrapolate the findings and to generate new constructs and hypotheses for research. From these findings we can look to the future and find pathways towards true success in ministry. Champions of research, and researchers themselves, need to arise.
3. Needed Collaboration: For their own survival, small groupings of people must recognize the need to collaborate with others. Aggressive guarding of territory carved out by a group soon leads to atrophy. In contrast, where there is a continual infusion of life from others, there is a sense of vitality and not morbidity. Small churches need to be open to affiliations and additional stakeholders who will strengthen their existence.
4. Effective succession: Small churches formed out of affinity to each other tend to gradually die. Many small churches will affirm that continuity is constantly on their minds. They are just so busy preserving the current family that a new generation is lost. A better understanding of small church strategies for continuity needs to be pursued.
These are some of my thoughts. What are yours??
What We Are Reading
The Remarkable Ordinary
Fredrick Buechner’s book, The Remarkable Ordinary (Zondervan, 2017), is not a resource of methods or strategies that will assist a parish or congregation to flourish. Yet, in light of our current global situation which has for all intents and purposes brought many aspects of ordinary life to a grinding halt for many of us, Buechner provides what I would call a prophetic encouragement. He demonstrates how art and faith can and should assist us greatly to pay attention to how the ordinary directs our attention to our remarkable God. Even a pandemic has holy moments, if we listen for them.
Rev. Dr. Bill McAlpine, Professor Emeritus, Ambrose University
Resources for Church Leaders
CONGREGATIONS AND THE PANDEMIC: AN INTERACTIVE ONLINE SESSION WITH DR. JOEL THIESSEN
Wednesday, June 16, 2021, 7:00–8:30pm PST
COVID-19 has both stunted and aided congregational flourishing in a variety of ways. In this interactive online session we will briefly explore some foundational elements to a flourishing congregation, before interacting with data on the complex interplay between the pandemic and religious and congregational life. We will give particular attention to questions, issues, and prospects that congregations might wish to give attention to upon resuming more “regular” in-person ministry activities. Register Here
Risk Assessment for Churches
Operating your church more safely in a time of respiratory infectious diseases can be a challenge. The ARCC is a set of tools to help church leaders improve their policies, assess their risk, learn more about controlling diseases, and know how to support people's mental health. Instill confidence in yourself, your congregation, the community and those in authority by visiting churcharcc.com
Resources for Safer Church Re-Opening
Want to increase confidence in your congregation and community; to increase your knowledge; and to share what you've learned over the past year?
Join Dr. Bridget Stirling (epidemiologist and former missionary), a team of public health specialists, and church leaders from around the world in the ARCC.
The Application to Reduce Communicable Diseases in Churches (ARCC) is a program that increases safety through Risk self-assessments and guidance, church-specific training and an interactive forum. Visit us at stirlingharmston.com
Researching the Impacts of Covid-19 on Congregations
Several research studies are emerging on the impacts of Covid-19 on congregations. Click Here to learn from these data-driven insights.