Holston Conference has over 700 hundred small membership (less than 125 in worship on any given Sunday) urban and rural churches located literally on every major highway and byway within the Holston geographical boundaries. This form of worship, making disciples and transforming the world, is by far the most predominant and most prevailing statement of Methodist witness in North Georgia, East Tennessee, and Southwest Virginia. District Superintendents have anywhere from 40 to over 70 stations and congregations to resource, guide, assist, and support.
“As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the enemies of God.” Exodus 17:11-13 (NIV)
This well known story reminds us that District Superintendents and their leadership teams need support due to their most critical and extensive roles. Thus, the Committee on Small Membership Churches is developing a partnering relationship with each District Superintendent and her/his district leadership to equip them and their congregations in revitalization and vitality tools and techniques. This will help ensure that local needs are met in their community context and mission areas where they can do the most good to match needs and resources.
The Committee on Small Membership Churches began pilot initiatives this fall in the Big Stone Gap District with community-wide listening events. Archer Coppedge, Big Stone Gap District Superintendent, invited pastors and laity to three events in the Scott County, Wise County, and the Lee County areas. As a result of these hands-on and practical visioning events, new shared mission and ministry initiatives were identified, and new relationships and connections were established among congregations and local community service organizations. These events were locally developed, resourced, and planned, and the local action by the same participants are supported by the Committee. These local congregations, with the Committee alongside supporting their hands, are providing practical and proven “event shops” for revitalization of mission and ministry.
Archer Coppedge stated, “These congregations are making new connections and striving with hope and new encouragement to increase their vital witness right where they live.” He indicated these folk are NOW intentionally seeking new mission and ministry out in the communities where they serve to become even more relevant. Victor Dingus, Chair of the Committee on Small Membership Churches, said, “This is only the beginning of a fruitful and exciting journey of discovering just how God is working in our communities. This is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ as we expand throughout the Big Stone Gap and other districts.”
The Committee on Small Membership Churches, working in partnership and collaboration with district leadership, is offering equipping events where new mission and ministry can be crafted and forged. These events include:
• Worship and rally events to orient and initiate the journey for new mission and ministry
• Community and congregational visioning of shared and cooperative ministry
• Local congregational rethinking and revitalization action planning
• Local congregational evaluation of current mission and ministry and how to discover God’s will and respond (applicable to all size congregations)
The practical themes of each event address that God is working and going before us in these small membership churches. God sees no partial churches, only whole body expressions of Jesus Christ. God values people in need in the community, and they should be cared for in loving ways. Small membership churches are durable and resilient. God sees small churches as living out their Biblical namesakes – people of God, Body of Christ, new creation, and home for disciples.
Based on the Committee’s experience, these event workshops will help participants experience God in new, creative, and exciting ways by making discipleship and wholeness in the Spirit possible. If you are in a small membership urban or rural church, please to not hesitate to contact your District Superintendent for help. No request will be denied. Where possible, events may be consolidated and coordinated for effective use of resources.
If you are a member of a small rural or urban membership congregation and you want to know more about this new partnering relationship or you want to join in this initiative in any way, contact your District Superintendent. Our Committee looks forward to developing many new relationships during 2011 and beyond.