What God Sees
Annual Conference 2014
Rev Dr Lewis Parks Notes from his 2012 presentation to Annual Conference
What does God see when God looks at a small church?
I saw this incredible site in DC a couple of weeks ago (Discovery on way to Dulles). It is a good time to remember the many contributions of the space program.
- a. Not least is this: (view of earth from space)
- b. As I began to formally study small churches I knew I needed to find a way to rise above the language of dismissal.
- c. Both an exercise in imagination… and an exercise in the church’s own metrics (theology).
Does God see something quaint and dwarfed, something to quicken the nostalgic heart?
- a. Steve Phelps’ cartoons, small Mom & Pop store in age of WalMart (Clearfield)
- b. Little Brown Church: climax of nostalgia, pure imagination, Doobie Bros Q, but niche
- c. Problem of nostalgia is not just a small church issue. Dexter Ave., Montgomery, AL
- d. Lovett Weems: it’s what you’ve done really well in the past that can be your greatest enemy
- e. With God always, “What have you done for me lately?”
- f. So what have small churches done lately for God? US Congregational Life Survey (2001)
Does God see the small church through the eyes of its harshest critics?
- a. Seekers who want 24/7 service & lots of alternatives Arnold’s “won’t make that sale”…
- b. but counter truths: e.g., truth of intergeneration … e.g. truth of Dunbar’s Number
- c. Some theologians bored or dismissive of small churches but other theologians do better by small churches
- d. Bonhoeffer … J. Hellerman … A. Lamott ... L. Hurtado … R. Lischer …
- e. Some conflict managers… A Tale of Two Churches (with footnote from student pastor)…
- f. Helpful tool: Kemp’s steps of emotional engagement…
- g. Some church growth consultants: “shame on you!”
- h. but is “bigger and bigger” the only script around?... Dynamic equilibrium …
At a minimum God sees the small membership church as a form of the church that is remarkably durable and resilient.
- a. house plan of NT Church: 25 to 40 … so Acts 2:47 really means…
- b. dominant size of church over 2000 years: monastic orders, chapels: St Francis… parish churches
- c. HIRR: ½ congregations avr. less 100 in worship (162,500)…
- d. HIRR: ¼ congregations aver. less than 50 in worship…
- e. HRR: ½ Small churches in small towns or rural areas
- f. For UMC: Half average 50 (19,000) … 21% average 25- … ratio to large churches, 47 to 1
- g. Lewis Center numbers: only 1 category where as many grow as decline (1000+)… but in all other categories significant percentages of growth: 160-200 (35%), 101-125 (34%), 76-100 (35%), 51-75 (34%), 1-50 (34%)… Bottom line: 1 of 3 small churches is growing.
God probably sees good reasons to believe the number of small churches will increase.
- a. the number of mid-sized churches shrinking… LC: decline 350-499 (58%), 201-349 (57%)…
- b. the rebirth of house church movement
- c. judicatories taking a more mission minded approach
- d. younger generation’s preferences (York commuter to Baltimore, Social Security)…
- e. large church re-engagement with small churches, where we started, look at deeds…
- f. new church starts where mega is not the goal
And God sees the small church as a form of the church that has its own unique characteristics that still appeal to many persons. From David Ray…
- a. everyone knows your name and probably your nickname
- b. organization is “simple;” communication is oral, increasingly internet literate
- c. children belong to the entire congregation
- d. their most important activity is worship; their favorite activity is eating…
- e. lay persons are more important to long term existence than the pastor…
- f. but pastor who wants to be there and sticks around…
- g. they act spontaneously more than by planning, but as confidence grows…
More important, God sees the small church as receiving the same five gifts of the Spirit given to every congregation of any size anywhere in the world.
- (1) The Spirit creates the congregation and holds it together.
- (2) The Spirit makes Christ present in the worship.
- (3) The Spirit gives to the congregation every spiritual gift it needs.
- (4) The Spirit woos the Church to its next faithful step.
- (5) The Spirit reforms and revives the congregation.
Most important: God sees small churches as capable of transformation. God is first and last always; bourn by higher power. God Works; therefore you can work. God works; therefore you must work.
- (1) from further decline to dynamic equilibrium
- (2) from resigned passiveness to confident plans and action
- (3) from introversion only to extraversion also
- (4) from amnesia or nostalgia to a robust sense of a God story
Dr. Lew Parks… Wesley Theological Seminary… firstname.lastname@example.org (June 2012)