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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 …

A great conversation has spontaneously erupted over on Facebook and I’m following up on the suggestion to open the conversation up to the “wider world” outside of our Facebook friends lists.

It all started when Josh Brockway posed the question:

Is the Church of the Brethren congregational or connectional in polity?

He later clarified  his meanings with:

Congregational- the local congregation is free to act autonomously and is thus the primary locus of decision making within the denomination. (Think American Baptist)

Connectional- the local congregation is related to a wider network of constituencies. Thus decisions are made in reference and understanding of the wider denomination. (Think United Methodist)

Comments thus far have been all over the board, from “connectional in polity, congregational in practice” to “congregational in polity, connectional in practice” and many points in between. Read the rest of this entry »