Lessons from small-membership congregations



How many of us have experience worshipping or attending a small church? Over the last few months, I have met and experienced church with some very faithful Christians and all of them attend a small church.

One person volunteers to cut the grass and care for the lawn. He’s been doing this ministry for several years and speaks about it with a sense of joy. Then there are the two sets of sisters who take turns cleaning the church each week. Everything is always neat and in order. I would be remiss not to mention my new-found mothers, three of them, all claiming me as a part of their families. After church, I often visit the home of a family and share an outstanding meal.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams

These small congregations are seeking vital ways to stay strong and continue to serve the community. Let’s continue to pray for all of our small churches; many are blessed to have quality ministries, fellowship, worship, mission, outreach, and discipleship. Still, others are working to address challenges and grow physically and spiritually.

The following article is based on small-membership churches. As I read the entire article, this section on small membership churches and worship resonated with my experience of serving and attending small congregations.

The Importance of Worship in the Small-Membership Congregation

Remember that the small-membership congregation pursues the same mission as the rest of the church: to make Christian disciples. Therefore, the means of grace: worship, reading Scripture, celebrating baptism and Communion, prayer, Bible study, fasting and abstinence, small-group participation, Christian conferencing, acts of mercy as well as litanies, prayers of the people and hymns are interwoven in the very fabric of a small-membership congregation’s life together. It is in these experiences that vital worship and new life are found.

The best worship experiences in a small-membership congregation weave together the various facets of the congregation’s life. The people who are in the pew on Sunday are the same ones who attend the administrative council meeting on Monday night, visit a sick neighbor on Tuesday, attend the Bible study on Wednesday, clean the church building on Thursday, work in the soup kitchen on Friday, and mow their lawns and do their laundry on Saturday. In a healthy small-membership congregation, the entire week is brought into focus during worship. It becomes the people's reason for being. In a small-membership congregation, being is usually more important than doing. (Julia Wallace, “How to Worship in Small-Membership Congregations” umcdiscipleship.org, accessed Feb. 19, 2017)

For more information and resources on small membership congregations, visit www.umcdiscipleship.org.  

Rev. Denise Walton serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at denise@sgaumc.org.