Resilient Small Congregations

Blog Post by

Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Transitional Leader
choward@glpby.org


Serving as your Transitional Presbytery Leader has been a multi-dimensional journey. One of eye opening experiences I’ve had is learning about the many ways small church ministry happens in our presbytery.

Earlier this year, I created a graphic that placed each of our congregations in an “ecosphere.” This graphic went from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the sky. It showed congregations that skim on the waters, fly high like hawks, and soar like eagles. It also showed congregations that are “under water,” with some described as deep-water congregations. These are the smallest of the small congregations, averaging less than 25 in worship.

And yet, these small congregations had something to teach us. They have learned to survive, and some even thrive in deep water.

The past two weeks I have encountered three such faith communities. These are Elm Presbyterian in Alton Illinois, Wurdack Memorial in South St. Louis, and St. Andrews in the Princeton Heights area of St. Louis.

Elm has a beautiful sanctuary and a multi-generational worship with a strong music ministry. During worship, the musician went from Harp, to organ, to piano! It is a church with tremendous potential, but lacks consistent pastoral leadership because of its size.

St. Andrews makes it work by housing a Montessori school. This small congregation is able to maintain consistent pastoral leadership from the use of its building.

Wurdack birthed and nests an Evangelical Free church in its basement. Wurdack sees this growing church as their mission. They often worship and fellowship together. In addition, Wurdack has a steady stream of visitors because it stays connected to its community. Easter brings over 300 children to its Easter egg hunt!

At the ordination service for Joy Ridge on Sunday evening, I was moved by the words of Rev. Vicky Brown, as she gave the charge to Joy. Vicky said, “Reviewing a church’s annual statistical report says nothing about the depth of faith or the maturity of the members.  It says nothing about the ministries and the lives touched in the community.  Small churches deserve to have the same high quality, well-educated leadership that larger congregations enjoy.”

These are challenging words to our presbytery. Sadly, some small congregations may need to end their local ministry. But many others may be served with a slight boost from the presbytery to help them continue fruitful and faithful ministry in their community.

Rev. Craig M. Howard

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