I just came from the brown bag virtual luncheon on small churches that Litchfield North Association hosted for the Northwest Region. It was a wide-ranging conversation, covering the obstacles and gifts that small church life and ministry represents. I appreciated in particular presenter Rev. Liz Magill’s measure of vitality (and I paraphrase):
Does the church spread the Good News in its town? Is it important to the community of which it is a part?
This gives a whole different measure of how healthy and vital a church is. It is then less about endowment size or numbers of people in the pews (or on Zoom or social media), and more about how connected a church is with the needs of its community.
Some folks wanted to celebrate small churches’ nimble ability to respond to local needs. Rev. Liz Goodman, pastor of both Church on the Hill in Lenox and Monterey UCC, told a story about how her church, at the close of the last school year, wrote handwritten thank you notes to the teachers, and how meaningful it was to those who received them.
Those churches who are in search and in the interim process will know that the guiding questions for writing the local church profile are:
Who are you now?
Who is your neighbor?
Who is God calling you to become?
The order of these questions implies that you cannot answer the last question without knowing the answers to the first two. Vitality means quitting our tents and going out to where the people are and listening for how we can be in relationship and of service. (And, Rev. Magill said, if you’re small, pick one thing and do it well!) It means less hand-wringing about shrinking resources and attendance numbers, and more consideration of the needs of our communities.
Some churches are, admittedly, on the brink of closing or too mired in conflict to begin to be able to look outward. Those churches may need some help in discernment, and I (or the area conference minister in your region) am available as a conversation partner in those instances.
Yet the presentation today reminded us that churches that are small, but stable, can still be a beacon for Christ’s light—one that is much needed in this time.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?
…”You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)
So be reminded, Northwest region, that you are salt and light. And to the best of your ability, share those gifts with those who vitally need you—no matter how small you feel, for you are needed, loved, blessed, and commissioned.
Rev. Ogawa accompanies clergy and churches through adaptive change; times of transition; and discerning God’s call to meet the needs of their congregations and communities. Rev. Ogawa resources Committees on Ministry in the Northwest Region of the ...