John Meunier has some interesting thoughts on the gathering of the 100 largest UMC (by worship attendance) pastors in the US. As I read Adam Hamilton's review of this gathering it started a question started to hit me, will the revitalization of the UMC denomination come out of the largest churches? I have my suspicions.
I think sometimes we get too caught up in the wrong numbers and don't celebrate true church growth. (that was hard to type, I do love numbers) At our Annual Conference our Committee or Team on Congregational Development put out a brochure showing the largest churches and the largest growth churches in our conference. It was full of the usual suspects. These churches were all part of Hamilton's gathering, four even reside in the same county. But is a better example of church growth when a congregation who average 60 in worship grows to 90? The dynamic there has a much larger effect on that congregation then adding 100 new members to a congregation who averages 1200 people a Sunday.
The majority of our denomination churches are small to medium congregations. (my guess is congregation who average less than 250 a Sunday) I know in my small city there are ten congregations and only one out of those ten average more than 250. If these churches all saw a 10% growth it would completely change the dynamic of those congregations and town. Would this be better church growth?
Yet this is where church growth is the hardest and thus frustrating and exhausting. Here you have family entrenched into thinking it is "their church". Plagues all over the walls have their family names on it. These are close knit communities that have been through hell and back with one another and to welcome new people in can be a hard sell. Yet when a small/medium congregation see growth, a turn outward instead of inward, the community sees a change.
Small congregations can make progress but it is like turning the QE2 with a canoe paddle. Yet great change can happen when they starting to reach out instead of turning in. Yes, the uber-mega churches have a ton of resources and there are 400 times more small to medium churches. (rough guestimate) If each of these small churches gained 10% over the next five years it would be astounding. If the nine churches in Thomasville each gained 10 members we would match my current average worship attendance. It would be like starting new church but with 9 locations!
Yet most Annual Conference monies and focus are on the new and modern churches. The ones with the largest numbers, I mean congregates. They talk nice about 'church renewal' but are there really resources that don't force these congregation to pay an arm and a leg? We have gone through some of these programs but they did cost us thousands. There are some free material out there, but then it is at the whim of the minister or laity to understand it and consume it. A coach or consultant, with more experience could do much more.
Walmarts are springing up everywhere. They are huge, convenient and seem to have everything. But is the community better off because a giant has come to town or would it have been better if the nine mom and pop shops actually stayed opened? If we are going to survive as a denomination, the growth will have to come from the small and medium churches. They may not have the loudest voice but they are the meat of our denomination.