I'm the pastor of a small congregation. That is the plain truth. I keep thinking (and being told) that I need to find a different adjective. Like...? "Diminutive?" "Cozy?"
We're small. We worship 16-22 people on an average week. We want to have more folks. We know we need to grow. We're committed to mission in the name of Jesus Christ. And we are growing--slowly, but it's happening.
For the time being, though, we're small. What is stunning, and wonderful, is that we're still here. This congregation has gone through a lot. I view the "family" metaphor for church with a hermeneutic of suspicion, but this congregation has endured more than some families which crack apart. They have weathered some pretty troublesome members. They decided to sell the only church building they've ever had in order to continue the mission of the congregation in a more conducive setting. They called a lesbian pastor and waited to see if they would be kicked out of the only denomination they've ever known.
And they are still here. Better than that, they are thriving! The Word of God is proclaimed in our midst, in word and deed. The community which gathers--twice a week, at least--is strong and loving. This is a congregation of folks who really understand ministry, and who are truly focused on the heart of the gospel: love of God and love of neighbor.
But it seems as if every conversation I have with someone who wants to know how we're doing goes like this:
Concerned Person: "So, how is Abiding Peace doing?"
Me: "We're great. The community is really healthy; we're moving forward in the new location; things are going really well."
Concerned Person: "How many people in worship?"
The conversation ends shortly after I offer our latest attendance figures. It seems as if nothing I say matters, if we're not worshipping at least fifty or a hundred or a hundred and fifty or whatever the current "must have" number is for Sunday worship.
I understand this; I really do. Inertia is a dangerous thing in ministry, and low numbers can be indicative of mission drain.
They can also be the beginning of a great success story. The story of Abiding Peace Lutheran Church isn't finished yet. It's going to be great, too. So it would be nice if people could just take a breath and wait for the next chapter, which, I promise, is coming. We're just deep in the creative process. Get the Pulitzers ready.