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Over the generations, those of us in the Brethren movement have claimed “simple living” as a core value. Of course, as with any socio-spiritual conviction we’ve found vastly different ways of living in ways we might consider simple. It used to be plain clothes and abstaining from anything that might be considered “fancy.” More recently we’ve taken to focusing on living within our means, not falling prey to the prevalent consumer culture that surrounds us, or not relying on consumer credit to buy luxuries we can’t really afford.

Another way that many folks I know have taken to living simply involves trying to opt-out of complex corporate/industrial systems that are seen as working against the common good of all humanity. Yet it seems that such efforts often lead to a lifestyle that is far from simple, at least when judged by our traditional ideas of simplicity. Read the rest of this entry »

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I always find it humorous when I read books and articles that are targeted at “smaller churches” and realize that within the broader context of Christianity the definition of a small church encompasses the vast majority of congregations within the Church of the Brethren. I just don’t see it that way. For me, a church with 150 people is BIG! And yet there are many people out there who would consider it to be small (and not just the megachurch crowd.) I wonder what they would think about the church I worshiped with for several years that averaged about 20 attendees?

I’ve been working with Micah 5:2-5a for this final Sunday in Advent and in the process I’ve been reminded that being small and seemingly insignificant isn’t always a detriment. After all, Bethlehem was small too. Yet despite its size and status among the “lesser” clans of Judah it will be forever remembered as the birthplace of Jesus. And don’t forget Nazareth – “can anything good come from Nazareth?” But the towns of Jesus’ origin are in no way the only examples of the lowly being lifted up – just consider David or Joseph, or Mary the young teenage mother. The history of our faith is filled with similar stories! God often works through the people and places that our world is quick to write off.

So I’m left thinking – what does this mean for us, a relatively small denomination of about 1,000 churches, most of which are smaller and therefore seemingly less attractive to the general populace. According to one resource I found, smaller churches only draw about 11 percent of those who attend (Christian but not Catholic or Orthodox) worship in the US, while at least 50 percent of that same demographic attend the largest 10% of congregations, with an average attendance of 350 or greater.

It’s easy to get depressed about being a bunch of small churches in a small denomination. Still, I think there are also blessings that come with occupying this particular ecclesiological niche. Yes, being small has its challenges, but I don’t think we should think for a moment that God cannot work through us in amazing, world-changing ways!

So my question for you is this – what are your experiences of how being a relatively small church (both congregationally and denominationally) can be a blessing? How do you think our size makes us well-suited for this increasingly postmodern, post-Christendom age? What opportunities afforded by our size are we poised to take advantage of, and which ones are we missing?

I’ll be thinking about these questions (and many others this topic raises) and will contribute some more of my thoughts in the comments …

I don’t think anyone will argue we live in a diverse world. Today’s technology and culture have made amazing advances in connecting us to others who are very different than we are. However, the church (worldwide, denominational, and local) has been reluctant, hesitant, and at times flat out refused to embrace this diversity.

Thankfully, some of these trends seem to be shifting. I read with great interest about the “emerging” church that is growing in recognition and numbers. Part of my affinity comes from strong similarities I sense between their commitments to living out the life and teachings of Jesus in the midst of community. Yet one of the distinctive elements of many (most?) of these groups is their tolerance, acceptance, and comfort with diversity. Read the rest of this entry »