The past year has revealed the resilience and determination with which all POJ congregations continued to be in ministry. This has been especially so for smaller congregations with fewer than 100 members. Nearly two-thirds of POJ’s 98 congregations fall into this category, ranging in size from four to 98 members.
Kerra English, covenant pastor at Ashland Church, addressed the unique reality of small churches in her sermon to the presbytery at the 108th stated meeting on June 15.
“For our small churches to not just exist but to thrive, we have to quit sending congregations the message that their numbers are what tell the story of their ministry,” English said. “That message becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and churches that are told they must be everything for everybody in order to be valued exhaust themselves... If God has planted them where they are, who are we to stop them?”
Lisa Salita also spoke at the meeting on her experience in small churches. She currently serves as the interim pastor at Madison Church.
“It is a joy to see the gratitude that smaller congregations have for their legacy,” she said. “It informs their desire to keep going and to make sure they are there for the next generation.”
Both English and Salita have witnessed the pressures on small churches to balance funds, ministries, and services when attendance and resources decrease.
“I have seen difficult discussions and decisions over what [larger church] leaders would consider to be tiny amounts of money,” shared Salita.
Among the challenges that budget concerns and limited resources create in small churches are the benefits they can afford to offer pastors.
Only 11 of POJ’s 60 small membership congregations have pastors who are called and installed, full time and with benefits. The rest have covenant pastors serving under contracts of 12 months or less, specially-trained ruling elders serving as pastors, or no pastor at all.
Because of the unique ministries of our small membership congregations, many of the pastors who serve in these congregations do so because of their deep passion and love for leading the small church in ministry despite the temporary nature of their contracts and lack of benefits.
“Small church pastors aren’t often recognized for their courage to take on giants [like David did],” English emphasized, “but I can tell you, they’ve been tending the sheep like nobody’s business.”
They wear multiple hats, including IT department, human resources representative, and cook, in serving the various needs in their congregations.
This, she concluded, helps the congregation see “what lengths you will go to stave off bears and lions or direct them to living water.”
In the coming year, the Small Church Ministry will celebrate pastors and congregations who have fewer than 100 members. They invite you to share your congregation and its unique identity with the presbytery. What are some of the joys you cherish about your church and your ministry?
Send a written testimonial, a recorded message (audio or video), and/or pictures to Deborah Rexrode, associate for Stewardship, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look for features on small churches in future issues of the Vine; in the Current, POJ’s email newsletter for church leaders; on Facebook (@presofthejames); and online.
Rev. Kerra English, covenant pastor at Ashland Church, led worship at the 108th presbytery meeting. Read her sermon, which referenced both the parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32) and the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17:19-37).
What are some of the joys you cherish about your small church and its ministry?
Rev. Lisa Salita, interim pastor at Madison Church, admires the resourcefulness of small church congregations: “The work of painting, landscaping, and plumbing is taken on by church members themselves because it needs to be done.”