Rightsizing Smaller Congregations

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We all know individuals who lost weight without rightsizing their wardrobe. Clothes that fit at 220 lbs look frumpy at 180. Similarly churches that are well below peak membership but haven’t rightsized systems and structures look organizationally frumpy, exhaust members, and reduce their Kingdom impact. 

For 75% of CRC congregations, growing smaller is their reality. That reality, however, can be missionally helpful as churches become more nimble, more focused, and more engaged with everyone walking through their doors. Downsizing, however, is only missionally helpful if congregations simultaneously right-size.

Here are some areas to consider in right-sizing a smaller congregation: 

RIGHT-SIZE FACILITIES

Sanctuaries built for 600 that now hold 100 can be disheartening to see. Removing back pews to increase fellowship space can help, especially if a hospitality center can added. Alternatively, replacing all pews with flexible seating creates multiuse space and gives the appearance of filling available seating. Additional facility rightsizing includes not heating unused sections of the building and/or renting unused space to day-care centers, recovery ministries, neighborhood centers, and local schools or businesses.

RIGHT-SIZE PROGRAMMING

I recently spoke with a pastor whose congregation of 100 was maintaining 20 separate programs…a legacy from when the congregation was five times its present size. I’d suggest no more than one major initiative/program for every 25 people in worship. When it comes to programming the old adage holds true: “less is more.”

RIGHT-SIZE STRUCTURES

Right-sized structures for a down-sized congregation are smaller, flatter, and more efficient. My rule of thumb is that councils should not be larger than one person for thirty in worship (with a minimum of five to maintain organizational balance). Additionally, empowered individuals need to replace committee structures so members can concentrate on a single area of passion rather than serving in multiple areas of responsibility.

RIGHT-SIZE THE PASTORAL ROLE

As congregations grow smaller, pastors grow more connected to members and the community. Pastors in smaller congregations are less managerial and more relational.  Additionally, they become more hands-on in the daily activities of congregational life. Particularly important is for the pastor to increasingly know the life story of those in the pews. Their voice from the pulpit should be joined with an arm across the shoulder.

RIGHT-SIZE THE “MINISTRY VIBE”

Smaller congregations should embrace casual over formal, intergenerational over segmented ministries, life-on-life disciple making over discipleship programming, and simple conversations with near-neighbors over impressive campaigns that catch the community’s attention. In the end, a right-sized congregation can be missionally vibrant and filled with joy and fresh opportunity.

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Community Builder

My question relates to when an organized congregation should consider moving from "organized" to "emerging" status, and whether there are advantages to be an "emerging" church as opposed to an "organized" church.   Do you have any thoughts?

Greetings Joe,

Twenty years ago I pastored a congregation immediately following an exodus of members to form a new non-denominational ministry.   The congregation requested permission to move from "organized" to "emerging." This decision proved helpful for several reasons.  First, we were partnered with another congregation that provided ministry support.  Second, we were able to form a steering committee from the most gifted members (both men and women) who were specifically focused on revitalization rather than maintenance.  Third, the obligations for ministry beyond our own congregation (i.e. classis and denomination) were significantly reduced.  Finally, it created a new atmosphere of urgency, fresh beginnings, creative thinking, permission for risk taking and the assumption that business as usual would have to embrace change.

 

I'd suggest joyfully embracing emerging status when it becomes clear that resources are limited, ministry focus is necessary and a ministry partner would be beneficial. 

Keith Doornbos

 

 

Community Builder

Thank you Keith.   I appreciate your perspective, and am grateful for your shared experience.   We will keep it in mind.   Blessings!

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