The Small Membership Church: Scenarios for Tomorrow by Lyle E Schaller

By Lyle E Schaller

For approximately 4 centuries, the small congregation has been the dominant institutional expression of Protestant Christianity. in the meantime the societal context for the small Protestant church has replaced from supportive to impartial to--in many places--a adversarial surroundings. The small church thrived in a society as soon as ruled through small associations that have been pleasant and supportive. yet this present day, small church buildings cope in a global of enormous associations that don't make any attempt to be supportive of prepared faith. for instance, ponder the retail chain shops that make no attempt to stick closed earlier than midday on Sunday mornings.

Lyle Schaller demonstrates that the small club church has a shiny and promising destiny if the leaders will adapt to new roles within the tradition. He indicates many various situations which may bring about larger use of assets and extra centred energies in ministry.

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If the goal is to strengthen ties with other congregations, the cooperative path is the road to follow. If the top priority is to offer a community witness that churches do believe in cooperation and joint programming, that obviously means cooperate! If the number-one goal is to respond to complaints, "There are too few of us to do that," one alternative is to seek to build a viable group by joint programming. If there is broad-based support for numerical growth, and if the local setting makes that appear to be a reasonable goal, then the best advice is to ignore opportunities for interchurch cooperation in what are usually seen as congregational ministries (in contrast to social welfare and advocacy ministries).

After we talked about several possibilities, I suggested that I would be interested in following up on the first-time visitors who do not return. My wife and I enlisted five other volunteers. Every Tuesday we meet and go over the list of first-time visitors from fifteen weeks earlier. If they have returned at least once, they are still the responsibility of our evangelism committee. We take those that have not returned at least once and who also have a local address. That usually runs between two and twelve households per week.

In each example, the cutback is greater than it first appears because of the huge number of new congregations organized by each denomination between 1906 and 1994. The net result of this century-long cooperative effort by several mainline denominations to control the number of new churches has been (a) a reduction in the proportion of all Protestant congregations affiliated with one of these cooperative denominations, (b) an aging of the membership in most of these cooperative denominations, (c) a net decline in the number of members and congregations affiliated with one of these cooperative denominations, and (d) the decision by a disproportionately large number of the people born after 1955 to affiliate with a new mission not related to one of these cooperative denominations.

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