What does a church that embraces “smaller as better” look like? How do we “right size” a small congregation to enhance its strengths? In my last blog I identified the crux of the problem as programs and structures taken from larger churches that don’t fit small and medium sized congregations. Consequently, we end up spending too much time and energy filling positions on committees that hardly serve our needs. Many also struggle to maintain outdated facilities that further exacerbate our problems.
Paring down or eliminating church programs and structures developed in the past century, which no longer serve us well, is part of the solution. Another is to retrofit our building and church property to serve other community functions. These are practical nuts and bolts considerations.
Even more important is capturing a vision for “smaller as better.” Carol Howard Merritt identifies “a trend away from the bigger is better mentality and toward smaller, deeper community.” She gives the example of the movement away from patronizing big-box stores to supporting farmer’s markets. Several things lie behind this trend that can be instructive for churches.
Our congregation’s book club, which meets monthly at the local library, is reading and discussing Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s a serious, yet light-hearted account of her family’s year-long adventure of producing their own food or buying it locally from farmers markets. The bottom line is their love for good, nutritious food. Close behind is the desire to support local farmers and the local economy. Another motivation is to reduce our carbon footprint by not eating out-of-season foods shipped long distances.
I see a similar space for small congregations. In his tour-de-force book The Empathic Civilization, Jeremy Rifkin juxtaposes the global movement toward greater empathy with the built-in entropy of our unsustainable reliance on energy from burning fossil fuels. The future of our human civilization is at stake.
Small congregations deeply rooted in their local community, and with an environmental consciousness, can help lead the way to a different future. For that to happen, slickly programmed, performance-centered worship services will need to give way to smaller, more relational forms of community. Furthermore, communities of faith have an innate sense of our shared humanity and our ties with all creation through our faith in God as creator of the universe. For our congregation in the City of Fairfax, this provides the inspiration for the development of a community garden and for a nature trail through the woods behind our church.