Rachel S. Gerber is denominational minister for youth and young adults for Mennonite Church USA.
To those who find themselves in small (or smallish) congregations, I have a word for you today.
You are enough.
I know of the countless hours you have spent praying about growing in size. I know you have given much thought about growth strategies and various ways to reach out to your community. I know how you have tried to create new programming in hopes to attract new families. Year after year, you have offered a warm welcome to the new students in your college town, and have been gracious in saying goodbye time and time again. But for whatever reason, your size, give or take a few, generally remains the same.
As parents, you wonder if you are doing the right thing by continuing to bring your children to a multi-age Sunday school class where your three year-old is grouped with a fifth-grader because there aren’t enough children to make a full fledged program. You worry about your high-school son and his faith development, as it is only he and his cousin in youth group. Should you stay? Or should you go to find a larger church that can offer more?
Listen to me. And hear me loud and clear.
You. Are. Enough.
No matter how big or how small your congregation might be, size shouldn’t matter.
Because in the end, it doesn’t matter.
Too often we believe the croon of the world that “bigger is better.” We have the FOMO disease – the fear of missing out.
Which often spills out into the life of the church, being distracted by the “If onlys.”
If only we had more children than we could attract more families…
If only we had more money, we could offer bigger and better programs…
Let me tell you: Programs rarely make a difference.
But genuine encounters with people always do.
Authentic faith formation is always rooted in relationships, not in the flashiest curriculum or best-decorated children’s wing.
As children feel a connection to your congregation, as they develop a deep sense of belonging – that their presence is not only valued but needed – they understand what it means to be true church. That is more than enough. Because especially in small congregations, everyone really does matter.
The best opportunity to create durable faith in our children and youth comes when they know that they matter and are invited to participate alongside a community that actively lives out their love for Jesus in the world. In this they experience a faith that actually makes a difference. And they in turn, want to join in the action.
In time, church becomes less of a place to go and much more of something they are.
I know this is true because I attend a small Mennonite fellowship. On a good Sunday evening, we might have 20 people, eight being children. Let me tell you, my children are known. And they are invited to participate. Often they are asked to read the scripture or choose the songs to sing. Blessings are given and received. We respect the spirituality that they bring and listen intently to their questions and answers. They sit among us for worship, and at fellowship meals there is often someone else cutting their food.
If I’m honest, I used to wonder and worry if this was enough. Aren’t my kids missing out on the Sunday school experience? What will happen when they are old enough for MYF?
But as I look around and see they way they are deeply loved and cared for, known and noticed, the gentle whisper of the Spirit reminds me,this is enough.
This is more than enough.
Because this is faith formation.
It is a holistic approach to spiritual formation, not to be confused with simply Christian education. Authentic faith formation is a call for everyone in the congregation – not just the pastor, not just the parents, not just the Christian education director.
This is a call for the entire community.
For we all belong to one another in this journey of faith.
To my dear small congregation, you are not lacking. You are such an asset.
You are enough.