Wednesday, 25 October 2017

When is a congregation "too small"?

OK, to begin with, I know the bit about "two or three gathered together".  I understand that, when necessary, the smallest number of people gathered in God's name is an appropriate number of people to worship God.  "Two or three gathered together" may be just the right number of people to worship God together in, say, a sickroom.  I really get this.

Nevertheless, I also get that some congregations are just really far too small for their own good, for the good of their communities, and for the good of the mission of the whole people of God, ecumenically speaking.  (I also realise that some congregations are far too large, and I'll address this issue in a later post.)

In my opinion, the Jewish notion of the minyam has a lot going for it.  In a traditional Jewish context, a service can start when a minyam is present:  ten adult men.  Not wanting to be sexist about this, and looking at this in terms of the demographics of Christian congregations (at least among mainstream denominations) today, if ten adult men are present for worship, there are probably also at least twenty-five to thirty adult women.  There could also be (depending on the ages of the adults) a few children or young people (as many as, say, ten).  In terms of Christian churches today (at least here in Australia), a congregation of thirty-five to fifty people is a pretty decent-sized congregation.  The minyam has a lot going for it.

Here are some signs, based on my own experiences in ministry, of when a congregation has become too small for its own good, for the good of its community, and for the good of the mission of the whole people of God, ecumenically-speaking.  They are arranged in no particular order.

1.  If a person in a key leadership role in the congregation expresses a desire to step down from that role, more energy is spent trying to talk her/him out of stepping down from the job than in finding someone new to take on the role.

2.  The majority of people in key leadership roles in the congregation have been in these jobs for more than five years. 

3.  There are a number of examples of people in key leadership roles in the congregation who hold more than one such role. 

4.  If the organist (or other musician) takes a holiday (or gets sick), it creates a crisis for the congregation.

5.  Similarly, if the treasurer takes a holiday (or gets sick), it creates a crisis for the congregation.

6.  There are a number of examples of people in key leadership roles who are family members of other key leaders in the congregation.

7.  A person is described as a "new member" of the congregation, even if he/she has been part of the congregation for over three years (and, in some cases, much longer).

8.  If the "Sharing of the Peace" is part of the congregation's liturgy, the expectation is that everyone present rushes around and greets everyone else present, rather than greeting only those in their immediate vicinity.

9.  Conversation during the refreshments following the service is frequently dominated by noting the absence of those who are not present, and speculating why.

10.  People of a more introverted nature may visit the church once or twice and, given the lack of an opportunity just to be an anonymous worshipper, cease attending.

11.  The prayers of intercession (particularly if they are led by lay members of the congregation) are dominated by concerns for the health of members of the congregation and their families, with scant attention paid to more global concerns.

These signs (and I'm sure you can think of more) can serve as symptoms of a congregation being too small for its own good, for the good of its community, and for the good of the mission of the whole people of God, ecumenically-speaking.  They also can be among the reasons why the congregation is too small.

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Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.