Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment[1] #4

(This Blog is a part of a series of blogs sharing insights from the “Findings, Implications, & Recommendations” reported by Dr. Weems about the Central Texas Conference.  This report analyzes key trends related to church size and clergy deployment over the past decade.  I will follow the reporting with some of my own reflections on these findings and recommendations.) Finding C: Modest increase in proportion of smaller churches Implications Yours in not a small church conference in that the median worship attendance of 60 is relatively high for conferences. However, with the presence of very small churches (144 with 50 or fewer AWA), it is likely there will be somewhat fewer churches in the foreseeable future. For the denomination as a whole, the decline will be about 23 percent between now and 2030. Most of these churches will be very small churches. Your loss rate should be much lower given the relatively low death rates among members of your churches of all sizes.  Recommendations 1. Identify the small churches capable of growing for consecutive years. Among even the smallest churches, about one-third will grow each year. So, the challenge is to identify and help those with the potential and leadership to grow and achieve the size needed to serve even more people. As churches get smaller, the likelihood that they will grow decreases, but when churches grow, the likelihood of further growth is enhanced.   2. Provide resources to help very small churches discern their future. Provide resources the smallest churches can use to consider ways to renew their witness or to evaluate whether they might best sustain their legacy by discontinuing their congregational ministry and using their assets to expand the United Methodist witness elsewhere. Such efforts can be simple and modest lest they overwhelm the time and energy of conference leaders due to the sheer number of these very small churches. As I have noted in other blogs, the Central Texas Conference’s Center for Evangelism and Church Growth has made the Small Church Initiative (SCI) a major aspect of our Conference activities.  No church is too small to matter to God and to us!  Every church has mission given by God.  Faithfulness and fruitfulness is not a matter of size but a response to a God given mission. For a number of years we have been investing major Conference resources in strengthening the small church and helping those who pastor small churches.  This is an area of historic strength for the United Methodist Church and will remain so if we are faithful. The challenge before the small church is to adjust to a changing, post-Christian America religious setting.  Embracing the intertwining of missional outreach and evangelism (put differently in five practices language – risk-taking mission and service with radical hospitality) is THE central challenge the small church faces.  As with larger congregations, the conference strategy will continue to be one that works with the “coalition of the willing.”  What that means is abundant Conference resources have been, are and will be available to small church that desire to step up and step out in faith for God’s new day.  No one will be forced to embrace SCI or Holy Conversations or any particular faithful initiative.  Conversely, resources will not be committed to maintaining the past.  They will be available to embrace the future in faith!

[1]               Based on A Lewis Center Report on Changes in Congregations, Clergy, and Deployment 2002-2012 South Central Jurisdiction The United Methodist Church, Central Texas Conference Report