upper room daily devotions

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...


molly said...

Here, here! I appreciate your bloggin'.

I, too, am sick of church growth experts and so on. The particular richness(es) of so many of our faithful, little churches doesn't fit into the paradigms of "church growth." And yet, the vitality is speaking to a need in our midst.

I'm at a big urban church, so my situation's a bit different. But I do tend to see young folks who come to our church drawn to all of our different worship--some to our emergentish worship in a dull gathering room, and some to our very traditional worship in a gorgeous sanctuary. Folks need the holy, and no church growth plan has a monopoly on that!

Being vital in a way that's faithful to context is critical.

Not that this becomes an excuse to trudge on with the same tired, dying habits...and just say to ourselves that we'll be relevant to the handful of young people who find them holy...BUT, size is not an indicator of the holy, either!


It's late and I'm starting to ramble, but I wanted to send you mad props for wise words.

rev katie m ladd said...

I completely agree that we can't do the same old tired thing; that's clear. I'm interested in exploring how to seize the best of our traditions and to reinterpret them in a creative and generative way. I also am interested in learning how other churches, especially but not exclusively small churches, create an atmosphere of "worship" over and against a "gathering." Thanks for your comment!

Deb said...

gee, you mean after seminary it doesn't get better? (she says... rolling her eyes at having to read yet another text written by a white guy...)

Welcome to RevGals and being a part of changing things!



rev katie m ladd said...

LOL..."some of my best friends are white guys!"

Thanks for the welcome to RevGal. I look forward to great conversation!

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