Peace be with You–Growth in a Small Congregation

The congregation Jeff and I serve is small–most of you know that already. In a ministry career of more than 28 years, one of my husband’s greatest gifts has been his ability to work with what God is doing and help churches grow. He loves people, and he loves helping them reach their faith potential within an active congregation. He’s also a marvelous preacher. So when he heard the attendance at Peace Lutheran was averaging between 7-10 people before we came, it didn’t worry him particularly (and still doesn’t). He wanted to devote his last call to a church that might find it difficult to get a good pastor, so that’s what he’s done. And the numbers have been creeping up, little by little. At a recent council meeting, for instance, members were thrilled by the average attendance for July. At fourteen people, it was the best July attendance the congregation has ever had! During the school year, when all of the vacations are over, we average in the high twenties these days. One Sunday, we reached the heady number of thirty-two worshippers. Woo-hoo!

But unlike other places we’ve served, the climb in numbers has been very gradual indeed. Yesterday, talking with some guests who came for lunch, we started thinking aloud about the human reasons for the slow growth in this town of 5000+ people.

“To begin with,” Jeff explained, “Half of the town belongs to the LDS church. That brings the pool of potential members down to around 2500. Of those that remain, approximately half belong to the Catholic parish. Each Protestant church–and there are half a dozen besides ours–takes some of the others. We have to work with what’s left. But that isn’t always easy either…”

Our guests began to look worried.

“You see, in a small town like this, people may already be connected to a church in their own minds, even if they don’t attend it regularly. They may never darken the doors or drop a dollar in the offering plate, but they know where their funeral will take place and where their grandchildren will be married. They consider themselves members, and they are not looking for a new church home.”  

Even I was getting depressed at those numbers. But was Jeff? Not at all.

“People will come, eventually. We’re doing everything right for growth, and we believe God called us here for a purpose of His   own.Our members are very committed. It’ll work out.”

This morning, after our walk, I was outside watering the garden, and I realized that I believe him. Because numbers aren’t everything. Tonight we’ll have half a dozen folks at Bible Study, and they’ll all participate. Jeff’s one confirmation student is thriving with all the attention he receives. A couple of weeks ago, our musician son visited, practiced with our wonderful accompaniest, and they produced some world-class music. Jeff’s preaching series on the 10 Commandments has inspired lots of talk and lots of thought about those ancient–and contemporary–rules of the faith. Things are going well here, and word gets around. Jeff’s firm belief that God has His purposes for our congregation is based on faith at this point, not sight. Not crowded seats. Not high numbers. Just faith in the dependability of God and His promises.

Pray for us, when you think of it. Come and visit when you are in the area (and bring friends)! Come and see what God is doing here. It’s a great garden for the growth of faith.

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8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Paul on August 29, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Mary,

    Did you consider any marketing tactics in your conversation? I have some ideas (lucky you!)

    Buy one Baptism, get the next one free.
    Free blessings, and wifi
    Guarantee marriages for 1 year (or money back).
    Take out menu for sermons
    Attend 5 services take 5 Hail Mary’s off your next confession

    Always trying to help! See you folks up North!!!!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Molly on August 29, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    So glad we were able to contribute to your record-setting July attendance! Would love to visit again some time!

    Reply

  3. Great to have you here, especially with the boys. And yes, thanks for being among the number!

    Reply

  4. Posted by Ben Boedecker on August 30, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Mary,

    It is wonderful how technology allows those of us who are so far away to stay up to date on your neck of the woods. Cristel and I are happy to read that the church environment has improved so well under Johnson leadership (though we are not at all surprised). We look forward to when we too can contribute to a record setting month!

    Reply

    • Thanks for reading! I appreciate it. I hope it is an improvement–the people here keep telling us it is, which is nice to hear. You may come and contribute to a record setting month anytime you want! Our home is your home, for sure!

      Reply

  5. Posted by Peggy Lane Duncan on September 3, 2012 at 6:20 am

    Thanks to a letter from Bob and Christel Ifound your blog. I am still not too good at this computer stuff. I have enjoyed catching up and reading your information. Thank you and Jeff for meeting the needs of folks even in small numbers. Our Womens SS class is down to 3 with we 3 teachers who rotate, but we continue because these senior ladies have served and now deserve to be served. We are making efforts in enlist new members, but most others don’t want to move from their class to meet with over 75 ladies. We are searching for a pastor as Pastor Shoffner retired; it has been over a year and still looking. My family is well and growing; Mama is weaker and sleeps more, but her mind is still good. Thanks be to God! I am showing signs of age, but nothing serious. My prayers and love will always be with you and memories of my time in Guam are special. Thank you for all you did and are doing. God bless you!

    Reply

    • I think we are ALL showing signs of aging these days, Peggy. I certainly feel as if I am. Thank you for your nice comment. We are really enjoying Arizona, the home-state we selected for ourselves! I think that your efforts with the SS ladies are wonderful–jewels in your crown! Wish we could see you sometimes!

      Reply

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