Conference and CPR partner to offer program for small membership churches

Conference and CPR partner to offer program for small membership churches

This fall, the Massachusetts Conference - in partnership with the Center for Progressive Renewal - is launching a pilot program for churches whose average worship attendance is at about 75 or less. Such churches are affectionately called Pearl Pastorates. The symbolism of the pearl comes from Biblical images: the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:46), the gates of pearl (Rev. 21:21), the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:45). The pearl is also the only gem made more lustrous by human touch. Pearl Pastorates are churches with a unique and uniquely human role in the Body of Christ.

The Conference is looking for churches that can join together, beginning in the fall, for this one-year program that will look at the unique qualities of Pearl Pastorates and will help each church discern how to become more healthy, faithful and effective in their life and ministry. 
  • Together we will take an online course (9 webinars – one each month - see topics below)
  • We will read a book together (The Indispensable Guide for Smaller Churches by David Ray)
  • We will engage in online conversations with each other as we seek to understand the elements of churches that are vitally alive in Jesus Christ.  And we will support each other in discerning and implementing strategies based on these learnings
  • We will discuss some possibilities of collaborating with each other in the sharing of resources, staffing, and programs.
  • We will meet together face to face at least 4 times to build relationships, network ideas, share resources and best practices, discuss collaboration, and hold each other in prayer. 
Expectations of participants:
  • Each church will develop a team including the pastor and 2-3 lay leaders who will take point in participating in the program.
  • The whole church will affirm participation in the program and will receive updates and insights from the team. 
  • The whole church will affirm and participate in the initiatives, strategies and plans/dreams discerned by the team. 
  • The team will commit to full participation in the webinars, assignments, online conversations and gatherings.
  • The church will contribute $400 to participate in the program.  Additional costs will include meeting expenses and the cost of the book. 
  • Churches will regularly report statistical information on church vitality to our Conference.
 Below is a list of the webinar topics being developed as the themes of the monthly online classes:
  1. What kind of small are you?  How small is "small;" the differences between urban, suburban, and rural small congregations; the difference between small congregations who have always been small, small congregations who seem to be growing, and small congregations who were once much bigger; the behavioral dynamics of growth and decline.
  2. Who's in charge?  Matriarchs and patriarchs; managing generational shifts in leadership; the evolving role of the laity.
  3. What's my job as a pastor?  The job description of a small-church pastor, including essential functions, core competencies, and how to tell whether it's a full-time job or not.
  4. Is anybody yelling?  Conflict and dysfunction in the "family"; how to manage part-time staff who are also members of the congregation.
  5. How are decisions made?  Official vs. unofficial decision-making; the role of boards and committees/task forces/groups; the costs of ministry.
  6. How do we communicate?  The building as a communication tool; websites; Facebook and social media; newsletters; word of mouth.
  7. What is our role in the community? Community demographics; noticing what's changing in the community and the culture in order to respond to it; staying non-anxious around change.
  8. What do we have to be good at?  Congregational core competencies.
  9. What is God calling us to do next?  How to plan for the future; identifying opportunities for growth, for witness, and for action.
If you are interested in this program, please register your church through the link below by late August. Download a flyer hereQuestions? Contact Ellie Richardson, Associate Conference Minister for Lay and Clergy Development, at, or 508-875-5233 x233.

Register here:

Contact Information

Ellie Richardson


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