[Editor's Note: Rev. Liz Goodman is the pastor of one of the smallest vibrant churches in the Conference, yet recently managed to almost double membership. And although some may argue that when you have 12 members, it’s easy to double membership, others may say that gaining 11 members these days is a tremendous accomplishment. Here’s what Goodman had to say about growing the Monterey United Church of Christ.]
I’m not an organizational thinker and I’m not a leader who can lead from the front. I’ve always been better in response rather than in charge. Small congregations thrive with that kind of leadership: responsive rather than visionary. Small congregational work is fitting for my personality type. I like few relationships that go deep.
My experience with scripture and preaching is similar. There’s so much more there when we delve even further into the message. Every time I preach on a passage, I find more to say, more to offer. And that in itself is inspiration for faith: that we don’t need to make this interesting: that it is interesting and important on its own, especially the more we dig.
I believe it’s that profundity that is partly responsible for the increase in membership.
We as a congregation don’t “reach out”—but it’s so small a town there isn’t (to my thinking) a real need to; and it’s so transient a community that it would be tough to know how to. That said, groups and individuals in our congregation do engage in other ministries as they feel called, such as collecting winter coats, contributing food for local food pantries, collecting can pull tabs to help with transportation costs of families with hospitalized children, and knitting prayer shawls for women at a local domestic abuse organization. But it’s not an official ministry, representative of the church, with an aim to inviting in or reaching out to the community.
However, I do write a column in the monthly town newspaper called “Who’s Who” in which I feature one person from town for interviewing and profiling. I think that has sent the message that the pastor, and by extension the church, is interested in townspeople—regardless of race, religion, creed, etc. There’s no agenda behind it; no intention that the person I interview will join the church. It’s “pastoral care” in a different, but just as true, sense—though I’m sure no one in town would call it that. But I feel that with a deeper understanding of their neighbors, the community can feel more connected to each other and to the church.
Another way to go deep is to empower your members. If you empower them to start a Sunday School class, to use Godly Play, to speak, to stay silent, to express their own ideas, to embrace struggle, to take on leadership roles, they will feel a deeper connection to the church. [See the Monterey Spotlight article on empowerment.]
Hearing others speak thoughtfully and openly—even making themselves vulnerable in a way—inspires trust and creates a sense of community. Members feel they are empowered, most importantly, to wrestle with the great mysteries of faith in an accepting, welcoming, loving space, in which they can return each week. That is the kind of activity that deepens relationships.
One member told me that they came back for all of that. And for the people they were beginning to feel connected to, for the support they felt implicitly around them—and for the challenge, too, to think deeply, honestly, differently, about their relationships to God, to others, and to the world around them.
For Monterey, growing that deep sense of community and faith, has been the conduit for growing the church.
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