I spent the other week with a group of people all working in small rural parishes while at the same time studying this ministry at a graduate level. It was for me a great opportunity to hear about all of the struggles and joys of this type of ministry. It has got me thinking. The reality is that there are a reletively small number of people in medium and large congregations. Alot of our people are in small congregations. The problem with this is not that there are small congregations, the challenge is how can these congregations see themseles not as struggling but thriving places of discipleship.
The reality is that it is often only small communities that our discipleship can be deepened. In larger churches we have to create this setting through small group ministry. In small congregations the whole congregation can have the richness of a small group. If you think like myself that it is though deepening our discipleship that our chruch can have a future, then our small congregations may in fact hold the future of what our church can be.
Still there are some real challenges that I have heard from people wiser them me. Bishop Mark MacDonald has asked an important question, How do we shape ministry and the chruch so that it can be a chruch people can afford? Prof. Cam Harder asks another question, how do we make sure small congregations do not have the sacraments withheld from them because they have to pay for it? (It is interesting that two of the main challenges are related to structures and their financial consequences – do I sense constantine’s shadow). I would add how do we in our chruch culture lift up and celebrate the gifts of a small congregation?
Perhaps it is time for us to create more means by which we can celebrte and enable small congregation ministry.