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Early arrivers put on their thinking caps


Small Church Think Tank attracts a baker’s dozen ahead of the Presbyterian Older Adult Ministries Network conference

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Jason Brian Santos, coordinator for Christian Formation in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, speaks to the Small Church Think Tank, which met Tuesday a day ahead of the start of the Presbyterian Older Adult Ministries Network conference on the campus of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

LOUISVILLE — Thirteen of the 85 or so people who will be attending the national conference of the Presbyterian Older Adult Ministries Network beginning Wednesday at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary got a jumpstart Tuesday by participating in a day-long Small Church Think Tank.

The Rev. Dr. Jason Brian Santos, the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s coordinator for Christian Formation, and Stephanie Fritz, the associate coordinator for Christian Formation, heard a little dreaming from think tank participants as they brainstormed following lunch. The conference, which opens with a plenary session at 10 a.m. Wednesday featuring a talk by PMA President and Executive Director the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, will conclude with worship Friday morning.

If lack of money weren’t an issue and resources and programs could be created with the wave of a magic wand, what, Santos wondered, would participants like to see from the national staff of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)?

Think tank participants, who came to the conference from small churches in rural, suburban and urban settings, delivered their ideas popcorn style:

  • Complete worship services and Vacation Bible School experiences in a box, with film clips, music and straightforward instructions for churches with small memberships.
  • A how-to confirmation course for churches with, say, only two or three youth.
  • Curriculum that doesn’t depend on the child being in Sunday school every week and “that doesn’t look like it came from 1970,” as one participant said. That could well be intergenerational curriculum, Santos said. When asked what age range might work, he smiled and said, “Elementary through ‘I’m not dead yet.’”
  • Weekly worship services streamed from larger PC(USA) churches for use by members of smaller churches who can’t physically attend worship at their home church.

“We just know we aren’t doing enough for small churches,” Santos told the group. “The challenge is, is the goal to make the small church work, or for the church to be the faithful expression of God’s kingdom on Earth?”

From left, Karen Garrett of Baltimore Presbytery and Terry Earnley and Kathy Potter of Detroit Presbytery talk about resources that might be created to strengthen smaller congregations within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

Fritz said that the group spent part of the morning talking about what they love about attending or serving their small church and what they find challenging.

One woman’s church had diminished over the years from 2,000 members to about 100. On the Sunday before she faced a risky surgery, church members spent part of the worship service laying hands on her and praying for her speedy recovery. That would never have happened, she noted, if the church still had 2,000 members.

“We end up with a lot of energy around, ‘Why aren’t young people here?’” worshiping alongside more senior members of small churches, Santos said. Among other benefits, the six-hour think tank “demonstrates the need to say, ‘What is the role in passing down faith from one generation to the next?’”

The Laws Lodge Conference Center on the Louisville Seminary campus is the site of the conference. Santos will speak at a 9:30 a.m. plenary session Thursday. He’ll answer questions during an 11 a.m. workshop that same day.

Watch for stories here from the Presbyterian News Service on other conference events.

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