How often have you heard a church member say, almost apologetically, "We're just a small church"?
No need to apologize, says Victor Dingus. In Holston Conference, more than 700 of the 894 total churches (82 percent) are categorized as small churches, with fewer than 125 in average worship attendance.
"Small churches are the backbone of the United Methodist Church. They're everywhere," said Dingus, chair of Holston's Small Membership Congregation Team (SMCT).
Holston has found ways to focus on ministries specific to small membership churches with the "Mustard Seed Awards" a decade ago and the "Great Small Churches" event in April 2009.
In the last two years, the SMCT has been reenergized, creating a new awards program and working with districts to promote shared ministries, said Dingus.
The SMCT funded the Aug. 5-6 training event for the Wytheville and Tazewell Districts, "Partnerships for Shared Ministry."
Dingus also helped the Kingsport and Johnson City Districts apply for a $50,000 Foundation for Evangelism grant that led to training events for shared ministry.
"I felt a call to resource the small membership church, the greatest need in this conference," said Dingus, a member of Mafair United Methodist Church in Kingsport District.
In June at Annual Conference, the SMCT presented the first-ever "Living Stone Award" to Piney Grove UMC and Pastor Larry Anderson. The Knoxville District church has grown from 34 members in 2002 to 195 today with 79 professions of faith. Anderson is a bivocational pastor and a contractor.
"They create ministries based on community needs and reach out and collaborate with any church or needy institution," Dingus said, referring to the Piney Grove congregation. "They believe the Holy Spirit is on them to reach out with passion."
A Living Stone Award was also presented to the Rev. Archer Coppedge, Big Stone Gap District superintendent, for "his many years of service to small membership congregational development throughout the conference," Dingus said.
The three Living Stone awards were rocks picked from a creek by Cub Scouts.
Steve Evans is a member of the SMCT and pastor at Beulah UMC, a Knoxville District church with 53 in average worship attendance.
"In the small church, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are present no matter if there is three or 53," Evans said.
"My heart is within the small church. The majority of our churches in this conference are small churches," he said. "I believe we can do great things, working together and looking at the ministries within the walls."