Bridgewater Church Growth Attributed to Internal and External Changes
In an era of decreasing church membership, Central Square Congregational Church, UCC
in Bridgewater, has welcomed 29 new members in the past two years, about a 20% increase for the church. The Pastor, Rev. Beth Stotts, attributes that growth to better accessibility, involvement in the community, and a shared responsibility.
In recent years, the church has taken action to become more accessible to all. They voted to become an Open and Affirming church
and adopted a behavioral covenant; they removed some pews in the sanctuary to create space for wheelchairs and walkers; and they made their six single-stall bathrooms gender-neutral. In addition, children and families were welcomed into worship where education was brought into worship all throughout the liturgy. "Each of these changes as to how we operate as a community was done through deep discernment and communal discourse," said Stotts.
Stotts credits some of her inspiration to Associate Conference Minister Don Remick
and his Super Saturday
workshop on Whole Church Evaluations. "That workshop I attended four years ago changed the direction of my church," she said. "I had my six deacons in that workshop with me and it sparked conversation about the ministry of the church which continues today. That workshop made ministry a responsibility of the whole community, not just the staff. It really changed our focus, and put a different lens on what we're trying to accomplish in creating God's church."
The church also changed the way new member classes were offered. Recognizing that people's schedules were already packed, another class to add to their calendar was not a good option. Instead the pastor speaks with potential members individually or in small groups and educates them about the church.
"I think that joining the church shouldn't be an obstacle as it has been in each of the churches where I've served in the past," said Stotts. "Yes, people should have an understanding of our identity, beliefs, mission, etc., but they shouldn't have to know every little thing about the church in order to join. The journey is just beginning. Instead, we look at membership as an entry into the community, not a culmination."
Potential members are required to attend worship regularly for at least a year before joining. Stotts believes that since membership is a covenant act, the hope is that through regular worship and involvement in the community, the covenant will be sealed by the act of membership.
"When each new person joins, the church changes," she said. "So really, membership is a process for the whole community, not just the ones who want to join. Church isn't static. Nor should it be."
Besides making these internal changes, the church has become more visible externally by becoming more active in their community. The building is now home to the Bridgewater Food Pantry, a collection point for household goods donated to a women's shelter, a prep kitchen for providing meals to the local homeless shelter, a community gathering space for bi-monthly Sunday community breakfasts, and even an annual Ukulele Hymn Summer Camp open to all Bridgewater residents. In addition, the church was instrumental in working with the town to transform an alley off the town square into a music venue (which holds free weekly concerts during the summer).
In an effort to engage the youth, Central Square changed its youth program. They no longer have a traditional 'Youth Group.' Instead, they have 'Mission Youth.'
"We were finding that youth weren't attending game nights, bible studies, or other fellowship activities," explained Stotts. "However, whenever we planned a mission opportunity (food drive, mission trip, leaf raking) they would show up in droves. This generation's faith appears to be all about taking care of each other, taking care of 'the least of these.' It's inspiring, really, and we have so much to learn from them."
One of Stotts' favorite characteristics about Central Congregational members is that they all help lead. On any given Sunday the liturgist could be a second grader, a choir member, an elder, or the church moderator. The sermon could be delivered by the minister, a 14-year-old, a deacon, or a new member.
"The body of Christ is made up of us all and I believe that when we live as a church community, lifting up the strengths of the individuals, we become a stronger body," she said. "That's what I've seen in my time here: a celebration of all the parts of the body, glorifying God and serving as the Living Christ."
You can reach Rev. Beth at the church office at (508) 697-6016 or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/csccuccbridgewaterma/