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Table of contents

Here are some examples:. Celebrating the Sacraments Baptism is the moment in a small-membership congregation where hope blossoms. It is a reminder that God loves us, regardless of age or maturity; and that God loves the congregation, regardless of size. Baptism brings a sense of hope for the future. The baptismal vows, lighting a Christ candle during the baptismal service, giving a hand-smocked cap to the baby, or having a reception after worship to welcome the family are symbols of an ongoing relationship. For a congregation that does not celebrate baptism often, a service for congregational reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant UMH , pp.

It reminds the congregation of its oneness in the body of Christ. Both the preparation for and celebration of Holy Communion can be a special time in the small-membership congregation. Preparing bread together provides an opportunity to talk about the meaning of the sacrament, both for the congregation as a whole and for individuals. It can also be a time for sharing faith stories. Conclusion Worship is at the heart of the small-membership congregation. Worship that builds intentionally on the intimacy and involvement of people helps provide vital and living experiences, as well as shaping the faith community.

Worship leaders can develop or enhance the current style of worship so that it is sensitive to the people who worship and to the purpose and vision of the congregation. By doing this, not only will worship be dynamic, but so will the congregation. Willimon and Robert L. Discipleship Ministries website. Originally published in Worship Matters, vol. Here a few well placed questions can help in understanding the setting of the small-membership congregation: Is the congregation new and growing? Is it adventurous and still forming its traditions? How open is it to trying new things? Is the congregation older?

Where is the church located? In a rural area? Who lives in the surrounding area? How does the church define community? How does the anatomy of the small-membership congregation outlined above relate to worship? Begin with the worship setting. The condition, design, and decoration of the worship space say a lot about the possibilities for renovation and improvement. Does the worship setting look drab, or does it shine? Are the symbols living symbols of faith, or do they represent days gone by?

Is the room light or dark? How comfortable are the pews? Are contributions from the current generation prominently displayed, or are only accomplishments of the past honored? They may have lived with the same worship space for so long that they have become blind to its need for improvement. To learn more about how the congregation understands its worship life, take a walk around the sanctuary with a group of members.

Ministering with What We Have

Ask people what they see. Inquire about the meaning of pictures or furnishings and the significance of their placement.

Find out where people sit and why. Ask what is valued, by whom, and what can be improved. The goal is not to completely remodel the sanctuary, but to appreciate the worship setting and find ways to renovate it economically, if necessary. Sometimes a fresh, lighter coat of paint does wonders. Pulling up frayed carpet, sanding splintering pews, polishing brass, or adding a banner or two helps immensely.

Plan special worship services in advance.

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The small-membership congregation tends to be event-oriented. Rather than trying to celebrate the whole season of Advent, it may be easier to plan celebrations that have special meaning for the congregation, such as a special candlelight service or an annual Christmas Eve celebration.

Some churches meet quarterly to look at what is ahead.


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Poor planning leads to poor preparation and low participation. Always involve lay people in planning! Make minor changes before tackling major problems. Remember to make small but significant steps! Some innovations in worship can be done simply because of who is doing them.

Keep the Faith

Sometimes it is the little things in a small-membership congregation that make the biggest difference. Here are a few ideas: During the gathering time in worship, make sure that all people are welcomed warmly. This sets the stage for whatever else happens. Recognize by name the man who is back in church after recovering from surgery; announce the name of the new baby born to a young couple present; sing a birthday song to a member.

Some churches make their announcements during the gathering. Encourage worshipers to make the passing of the peace a meaningful time of connecting with and supporting one another. Invite a layperson to pray an invocation; this signals the continuation of worship as the people gather. Examine the content of the sermon carefully.

Most people in small-membership congregations tend to think in concrete, relational terms. The sermon itself may take the form of a shared message, a dialogue, or a story narrated by different people. It is quite acceptable to involve people in the sermon. Jesus did this with the mustard seed, remember? Have a question-and-answer session that relates to the Scripture reading.

Ask a member of the congregation to give a testimony in response to the Gospel reading for the day or the message of the Gospel. Interview members of the congregation on a specific topic. Give individuals advance notice of the question or focus. Be specific in what you are asking them to share and how much time is available. Use gifts of people to assist in presenting the sermon.

For example, a photographer can illustrate the Scripture reading with slides; a dancer can interpret the Bible text with sacred movement; a potter may shape clay on a wheel as you preach on spiritual formation. Allow prayer to be a time in which the whole worshiping congregation participates. Pause to hear the joys and concerns or prayers of the gathered community. Pray for the ministry of the congregation and those involved, even for yourself. Once the center received c 3 status, the church could act as an equal partner within the organization rather than simply as landlord.

Three years ago, the congregation decided to place the building in a trust with Disciples Home Missions, a general ministry of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ. In , Jha stepped down as pastor to concentrate on her role as executive director of the center, and a year later Cross became pastor of the congregation. Originally a congregant, Cross is a transgender activist, social justice advocate, writer and speaker. She has an M. Cross leads the congregation of about 20 members, ranging in age from 24 to Despite the small size, the congregation is seeking to make a difference, she said.

A decade after it was first envisioned, the center is living into the vision. One recent morning, for example, the in-house partners met to discuss how to protect immigrants they work with, as well as new strategies for capacity building this year and next. The center has recently hosted peace-promoting theater performances, book readings, discussions and a Law for Black Lives conference, held in February. Has this work made a difference? Violence has decreased since the center opened, though Jha is does not claim credit for that trend.

Are you willing to "listen to the needs of the community and to check your fears and ego at the door"? A former professional basketball player, Jackson coaches the youth basketball team at the First Mongolian Christian Church, a program he hopes to expand as yet another way to spread peace. For Jha, the work of the center stems from the work of a small group of people willing to embrace a new way of being the church in the world. Congregations , Buildings , New forms of church , Innovation. A tiny congregation with a big building is resurrected as a center for peace.

Tuesday, March 20, Monica Joy Cross back row. Volunteers prepare to paint a mural on a wall in the center's parking lot to send a message of peace as people enter the space. What is the primary issue facing your community? Could you build your ministry around it? What existing institutional structures could help you achieve your aims?

Transforming Our Churches with Small Group Ministry

Project Darreis, a nonprofit founded by the mother of a young man killed in Oakland, offers a Halloween party for children who might not feel safe trick or treating in their neighborhood. Volunteers fill their trunks with candy and park in the center's lot so children can "trunk or treat. But there is something wrong with so many small churches failing to reach their potential. Are you willing to change that? Question: What are some other benefits of large churches as opposed to small ones?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section below. Curious article, although I would encourage you to do some real factual research into this. Several large denominations have actually studied this exact question and have found the results to be the opposite of what you claim when it comes to evangelism.


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For instance, a recent study by the Presbyterian Church in America found that 10 churches of will actually have more conversions over the same period of a time than 1 church of Kyle, interesting study. In addition, confessional churches by and large depend on infant baptisms rather than conversion baptisms as their primary count. Bill it would be interesting to see what the per capita results are in larger churches.


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  5. Of course, whatever the figure is it is immaterial when faced with the magnitude of growing number of unchurched people in the West. Interesting and confusing. Im sure your stats were per capita members and included infants.

    see If you were having that many baptisms your denomination would be growing. I would bet that amount surpasses the adult baptism rate of both denominations. Interesting view. Eventually smaller churches have no altwrnative but to close. I am afraid we are then playing church. Note in the eyes of the Lord small church or big church is the same.

    I believe in a small church where one coukd deeper spiritually. These individuals can then take the gospel to their place of influence. This my friend is advancing the kingdom. If small churches grow people deeper spiritually and they take the Gospel to their place of influence, then that small church will become a larger church.

    Also, you are assuming that churches grow by taking members from smaller churches.