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If you’re looking for a congregation that personifies the spirit of Matthew 25 congregational vitality, you will find one in White Rock Presbyterian Church (WRPC) in White Rock, an unincorporated community of nearly 6,000 people in Los Alamos County in north- central New Mexico. “We’re a small little church,” said Jennifer Holmes, who serves as a deacon at White Rock. “When we used to go to church, prior to the pandemic, we would have between 20 and 25 people in service. And that includes the pastor and the pianist and any little kids that happen to come. It’s really small. We’re one of those little churches you read about. In some ways you might look at it like we’re just barely hanging on, if you look at our numbers and our budget. On the other hand, we are so vital in our community and in our larger community.”
Years ago, I had the pleasure of talking with Bruce Joel Rubin, a screenwriter who won an Oscar for his screenplay of the romantic thriller “Ghost.”
Simple acts of reaching out to people can be life-changing, and it also reminds us that no one is expendable.
Fort Caroline Presbyterian Church, which I serve as interim pastor, is 60 years old and has long passed its “glory days.” It’s in the Arlington area in Jacksonville, Florida, a neighborhood in the midst of transition. When I arrived nearly four years ago as the part-time ecumenical pastor, we were worshiping alongside about 20 people. We have only two couples in their 50s; most worshipers are 70–98 years of age.
This isn’t a story about how a small church runs a big program. It’s not a story about how a small church grows into a bigger church. It’s a story about the lessons a group of adults learned from a handful of children as God challenged the adults to try something new.
San Gabriel Presbyterian Church in Georgetown, Texas, has long supported the work of mission co-workers Jeff and Christi Boyd in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But when the Boyds visited their church and they heard about Congolese children like Serge, they knew they could do more, even with limited resources.
Like so many seminary students, I daydreamed about my future ministry while sitting in classes. By the time I graduated, I’d imagined my calling many times before actually experiencing my calling. I visualized cool programs, vibrant music and lively Bible discussions. I thought there would be children, youth groups and church retreats. Obviously, God thought differently.
I’d been on the job for about three months when it came time for the joint planning meeting with the session and deacons. It was my first call to a small congregation in a medium-sized building. I was old enough to remember what church was like back in the ’70s, when vacation Bible school was a community event and Christmas and Easter meant extra chairs around the perimeter of the sanctuary. The church to which I’d been called didn’t even fill up on the big holidays.
Not too long ago our presbytery meeting was held at a cathedral-like church with thick stone, intricate stained glass and a grand, high pulpit. As I climbed the steps to the pulpit, I swear the air got thinner. When I got to the top and behind the mic, I felt like I was commanding a starship. There was a smooth wooden shelf encircling the area, like an expansive console surrounding me, but without flashing computer screens. I felt like I could pilot the church straight to heaven. As I looked down upon my colleagues something inside me felt strange. Then I realized what it was. I had pulpit envy.
“Resourcing Small Churches: Implementing the Small Church Residency Program Model in Your Presbytery or Synod,” a free webinar hosted by the Theology, Formation and Evangelism ministry area, will be offered on Thursday, November 17, at 1:00 p.m. (EST).