Monday, January 29, 2007
what does a healthy, small urban church look like?
Last week I had a pretty dissatisfying conversation with someone in the United Methodist Church's connectional system. We were talking about congregational development as it relates to the church that I currently serve. Increasingly I feel torn between wanting the patience to work within this system of ours and impatience at the lack of hope for small urban churches - lack of hope that I perceive is at work in my conference and in the denomination as a whole. I believe that there is an important - even vital - role for small churches in our urban areas. Small churches can be financially and spiritually healthy places that sustain full time ministry and fuction as hubs for social justice. I believe that small churches with a somewhat traditional liturgy and "feel" can be a place for GenXers and Millenials to redefine tradition and reassert the church as a location for social change and personal spiritual development.
Now I am at the way outer edge of what most of our culture would call "young" (I am 38), but, unfortunately, I still am younger than most folks in our denomination, especially those in leadership in our denomination. I don't hear anything particularly interesting or compelling coming from these leaders. It sounds like the same old thing rehashed. It seems that every couple of years we create a new "plan" for ministry, engage another 40-50 year old white male as a consultant (no offence white males), and then we do nothing. I want to hear from people actually engaged in active and vital ministry, especially those in healthy, small, progressive churches in urban areas.
Anecdotally, I see that there are some people my age and younger who are looking for church that feels like "church." By that I mean they want a sanctuary, stained glass, and hymns. They are searching for set aside space that is holy and sacred. I know that I certainly don't feel worshipful attending services in spaces that are constructed to be large gathering rooms. And I see others, maybe not the majority but others, who, like me, are looking for sacred space.
As part of this search for sacred space, some folks are looking for a progressive church that welcomes questions and encourages right relationship and right action (orthopraxy). This is where a small church can become a place for social change. Through our relationships with one another and through the sharing of events that have shaped our lives, we invest ourselves in working for a better world. Small churches offer a special place to make intimate relationships, where belonging comes readily, and where someone's passion can more easily spread to become the passion of the many.
I am hoping to get in touch with other heatlhy, small, progressive, urban churches, regardless of denomination, in order to discover how they do what they do. I am no longer willing to listen only to the data generated by BARNA or Alban or denominational sources. I want to know first hand what a small urban church looks like - literally looks like - and how it goes about the work of ministry. The Holy Spirit is alive in our churches, and it is calling us out of our fear and into radical ministry. I hope this journey that I'm beginning is rewarding, and I welcome all input that anyone may have to offer...
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