Small congregations rank highest in congregational participation
Apr 06, 2004
Certain assumptions have long been made about what makes for the strongest congregational life—for example, that megachurches provide the best worship experience or that the best churches generally make children’s ministries a priority.
References to Robert Putnam have turned up in many sermons in recent years, including my own, because of a timely observation he made, one that immediately resonated with pastors as both true and important. America, he said, was experiencing a sharp decline in “social capital,” by which he meant the tangible and intangible benefits of community involvement.
What is a healthy congregation? For some clergy and laity, health is simply the absence of conflict. But we may be confusing a healthy congregation with a placid one. While conflict is seldom fun, its absence may be less an indication of health than of an insufficient sense of urgency or challenge about being the church.
What is a great church? For many Americans, great is synonymous with large, volume equals vitality, quantity means quality. But a countertradition is quietly emerging. As more churches grow to stadium proportions, small congregations are coming to see their diminutive size as an asset for mission.
A half hour before the Sunday morning service begins, St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco already displays the holy chaos that characterizes its worship. In the domed entrance hall a choir is practicing motets.
Dear Congregation of the St. Pachomius Byzantine Orthodox Church: Pursuant to our contractual agreement dated August 1 of this year, I have completed my evaluation of your church. I have, as you requested, assessed your worship as to its compatibility with contemporary sensibilities.
One of the reports the stated clerk makes to the General Assembly of my church when it gathers for its annual meeting is about statistics: how many members we gained and lost, how many infants were baptized, how much money the people put in the plate. For Presbyterians—and in varying degrees for Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans and others—this is a sobering moment.