A Reflection on Season 1, Episode 2: Baby Big Church
Organic, collaborative, shared, adaptive, agile, flexible, liberating, decentralized, intuitive, relational. These are the characteristics of small church ministry that Rebekah and Allison discover as they unpack what small churches can be when we’re not trying (and ultimately failing) to be baby big churches.
For me, the biggest and best take-away of Episode 2, “Baby Big Church,” is this: when small churches that operate as baby big churches fail to become sustainable and vibrant, the failure rarely lies with the congregation or the people within it, but with the system itself. It’s not that the congregation doesn’t work but that the model of organization doesn’t work for that particular group of faithful folks.
But, when we are freed from the expectations and limitations imposed upon us by the insistence that we simply shrink big church structures, we can fulfill the vision and mission of a gathering of God’s people that is naturally much more sustainable. We can operate within the metrics and models that make sense for the unique context of our small congregations. And we can do so precisely because we are small: a canoe operated by a loving family – not a massive cruise ship that takes training and time to maneuver.
The unique context of each congregation is also what creates so much beautiful diversity, even within the models that do work well in our smaller settings.
Take, for example, Rebekah’s advice about right-sizing vestries and other lay-leadership bodies. The importance of organizing leadership structures in a way that fits the needs of the congregation is universally applicable (as much for big churches as for small ones, too!). In her setting, Rebekah found that shrinking her vestry allowed her parishioners to respond to the invitation to serve in that role with “prayerful nos” or “prayerful yeses” and translates into an intentionality in vestry leadership that makes sense for St. Alban’s.
But, in our very next episode, Allison and Susie will celebrate a right-sized vestry in another small parish that works by “drawing lots” from among congregants eligible to serve in that leadership role. Listeners of “Baby Big Church” might think at first that Rebekah’s “prayerful yeses and prayerful nos” is the “right” vestry model for small congregations but the truth is that there’s no one “right” way to do this kind of work. Our small churches can “try on” different models of ministry and leadership within a more intentional small-church structure and find a variety of “right” ways that work!
Questions for Discussion:
- Have you ever felt like your small church is “failing”? If you reflect on the particulars of that situation, could the reality be that the organizational model you’ve been given actually failed your small church? What might be possible if you change the model to fit your church instead of trying to change your church to fit the model?
- In the episode, Allison tells Rebekah that the language and behavioral pattern of “trying on” new things has been “liberating” to St. Stephen’s. How does the idea of trying things on in your congregation sit with you? What might/do you find difficult about that practice? What might/do you find liberating?
- The non-Baby-Big-Church model of small church ministry that Rebekah posits in this episode is one with a smaller vestry, programming that is flexible and sometimes temporary as seasons of parish life come and go, and a decentralized structure that relies as much on lay leadership as it does on the clergy. What do you think of such a model for ministry? Would such a structure work for your congregation? What, if anything, would you add or delete from the basic scaffolding Rebekah describes?
- In this reflection, Leyla uses these adjectives for the vibrant small church ministry that Allison and Rebekah uncover in the episode: “organic, collaborative, shared, adaptive, agile, flexible, liberating, decentralized, intuitive, relational.” When your congregation is freed from the limitations of the “Baby Big Church” model, what adjectives did/might you begin to use to describe your ministry and life together in Christ?