September 2009
Small Church Ministry

Editor's note

There are a few myths floating around about small congregations: they reflect the demise of the Church; they are poor; they are troublesome; and they are a minority in the Episcopal Church.

As with churches of any size, some of those things may occasionally be true, but the point about small churches being a minority is not the case. Half of our congregations (50.7 percent) are small or family-sized congregations, where average Sunday attendance is 70 people or less. (See Figure 2 in research report below.) Another 29 percent of congregations report attendance from 71 to 150 people. So, some 80 percent of our congregations have less than 151 people in worship on a typical Sunday. While 150 people may be a large number by some standards, it is modest by most.

Whether large or small, stability and growth is achieved by reaching the hearts and souls of each person — through one-on-one work, small groups, good preaching or outreach. Here’s the key for growth, at least according to Kirk Hadaway, (research director of the Episcopal Church and compiler of the research used here): growing congregations are most likely to strongly agree that “they have a clear mission and purpose, are a force for positive change in their communities, and are spiritually vital and alive.” (See Figure 13 in research report below.)

Bottom line: it’s about Jesus. Is He present and are people in touch with and moved by Him? Does that knowledge make a difference and does it change lives of those in the church and in the community?

Size is not a predictor of success or failure. What predicts such an outcome are the factors above. And while the checkbook balance in small places probably has less cushion than in larger parishes, what smaller churches DO have is this: the close-to-the heart knowledge that the smallest communi- ty of all — the twelve disciples around Jesus — formed the body that changed the world.

Lindsay Hardin Freeman

The majority of Episcopal congregations are small to modest-sized.

A clear mission and purpose and sense of spiritual vitality help drive growth.

Episcopal Congregations Overview: Findings from the 2008 Faith Communities Today Survey. C. Kirk Had

This article is part of the September 2009 Vestry Papers issue on Small Church Ministry