What kind of: church are we / pastor am I / future should we aim for?

The "Vision Group" at the "Acts 16:5" seminar
The "Vision Group" at the "Acts 16:5" seminar

We – I and some folks from Gulf Shores First Presbyterian Church – just attended a seminar which brought up some important questions about who we are and where we are going as a congregation.  Of course that means it has something to do with who I am as a pastor and what I am able/willing/ready/open enough to be/do.  (I hope these thoughts get over the / impulse soon; probably it’s distracting as a writing technique.  Sorry.)  It also has to do with the congregation – our demographics, location, history, composition and all that kind of thing.  Here is how the research tells the story: it’s about size.  There are different kinds of congregations of course, but size puts them into categories that are   pretty well definable.  Here is how it goes in membership terms, according to the Small Church Typology Information Packet, (Presbyterian Church, USA) citing:

Arlin J. Rothauge – Sizing Up A Congregation for New Member Ministry New York, NY: Episcopal Church Center, 1983

Family size congregations have up to 50 adults and children at worship. They operate like an extended family, organized around one or two key leaders, who are often not elected to the session. Relationships are more important than anything else in the family size congregation, and the pastor often serves part-time, leading worship and offering pastoral care. Decisions are likely to be made informally by consensus so long as the key leaders of the congregation are involved.

Pastoral size congregations have between 50 and 150 in worship. They are made up of several family and friendship groups, unified around the pastor who plays a key role in the decisions and ministry of the congregation. Decisions are likely to be made based on the pastor’s interests and skills.

Program size churches have 151-350 in worship. They are organized around programs serving the needs of the members for nurture, involvement and mission outreach. Decisions are made by the session with involvement by the pastor and other staff persons. Committees are likely to play a key role in program-size congregations.

Corporate size churches have 350-1,000+ in worship. They are organizationally complex and the pastor in this size church often functions as a CEO. Staffing reflects the complexity of the organization, with a cadre of specialists providing excellent quality programs and services to a number of different constituencies. In order to provide opportunities for greater intimacy, corporate size churches often offer a variety of small group experiences focused on particular needs or stages of life. Decisions are likely to be made by the senior staff with the blessing of the session.

This maps up to (comes from?) reasearch by the Alban Institute, described in Roy Oswald’s article:

Traditional service
Traditional service

How to Minister Effectively in Family, Pastoral, Program, and Corporate Sized Churches

OK, for us this means that we are on the knife-edge between Pastoral size and Program size.  We have about 125 members now.  We used to be bigger (were we a Program Church back then, before I was pastor?  or just an over-sized Pastoral church?   either is possible).

Being on the edge of two types of churches brings up all kinds of questions:

  • Is one “better” than another?  (in what way better?)
  • Is one more “correct” than another (more what a church “should be like” than the other?)
  • Which kind of church do our people want to be in?
  • Which kind of church do I want to be the pastor of – or am able to be the pastor of? (each kind entails different skill sets and ministry models)
  • Which kind of church can survive in our context – time and place?
  • What does “success” mean? – that you are doing it right or that you sold out to please the crowds?

Here are some provisional thoughts about these questions.

Which one is “better”?  Well, if you want  a youth group and Sunday school for all ages and something for young families as well as retired people – which we say we want (and yes, this is what I want for us) then you better be a Program Church because a Pastor size church just can’t handle this.  Also, if you want to have resources available for ministry you need to have a few more people around to share the load.   That’s pretty brutally practial, but that’s also realistic – from my perspective.

Which one is more “correct”?  Well, the New Testament model is that the pastor trains (equips) people (“the saints) to do the work of ministry (service) – not that the Pastor does it all – so it seems to me that the Pastoral church is a little problematic.  cf. Eph. 4

11 And He agave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,  12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of bthe body of Christ;

Which kind of church do I want to be pastor of – or am I able to be pastor for?   This is a little tough – I like being involved in lots of different ministries – but I especially love teaching / training / equipping – which means I tend toward the Program set of things.

Which kind of church do our people want to be in?  This is harder for me to answer – but it seems to me that there is a pretty high expectation that the minister will show up at most things/meetings/bedsides – can/should/must this change?  At what cost?  There are plenty of stories of burn out for pastors who try to be all things to all people when it’s just not possible to.  Even ruined families.  That’s scary.

Which kind of church can survive in our context?  Well, the small ones seem to keep shrinking while the bigger ones seem to grow – what does that say?  This area in Gulf Shores (they tell me) used to be a sleepy little sand-dune, vacation-cabin place on a dirt road.  Those days are now a distant memory.  Maybe the days of a Pastoral church are similarly over and done.  Am I talking myself into a conclusion here?

What does “success” mean?  Just because the crowds come, doesn’t mean you are being faithful to the demands of the gospel.  But failure to thrive is not necessarily a sign of faithfulness either.  The old expression may be valid here: those who are married to this generation will be widowed in the next generation.   On the other hand, ministry is about meeting people where they are – not where they should be – and helping them get from here to there.  If what you are doing is not reaching them – maybe its our fault.

the contemporary service
the contemporary service

One more issue is really important to me: we have two tracks we need to be running on at the same time.  We have a core that is at the heart of this church.  They are retired people who love traditional ways and means.  They have spiritual needs that are legitimate and must be honored and must be ministered to.   Whatever we do or become, we are a church that must meet the needs of retired persons.

We also have a second track: the people who live all around us who are not yet retired, who have families, kids (the high school is just down the street from us!) who have legitimate spiritual needs that are met in a more contemporary style, and we are missing most of them.   To me, this is a problem that needs a solution.

So, this is the “text” I’m in right now.  What do you think?

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