Why This Ministry Matters

I spoke on Sunday at the ordination of a new minister. Lyn will focus her ministry on small congregations. She sees her work as consulting ministry with small, mostly lay led fellowships and churches in our district, rather than to a specific congregation. In her internship, and in the work she’s done as a district consultant in the last few years, Lyn has encouraged small congregations’ lay leaders to focus on mission, vision, and planning.

After the service, two ministers who were there suggested that I post my remarks on “Why This Ministry Matters” on my blog. Here they are, excerpted.

We have many small congregations in our District and across the country. Some of them have part time Consulting Ministry, but many are too small to afford it, or too isolated geographically to be able to attract professional ministry. Some, because of their history or the preference of their members, are not interested in having a minister. These small congregations wax or wane from year to year, depending on the energy and vision of their current lay leadership. Almost all of them struggle. They struggle to provide programming that attracts or keeps newcomers.  They struggle with too few volunteers and not enough money. If they own a building, they struggle to maintain it; if they rent, they are challenged by not having space that’s adequate or, perhaps, by having to find a new space every few years. The people are dedicated Unitarian Universalists, committed to having a liberal religious presence in their communities. But with the need to focus on month-to-month and year-to-year survival, there can be little time to focus on the larger questions.

Unitarian Universalist minister and Alban Institute consultant Dan Hotchkiss recently wrote an article entitled, “Who Owns the Church?” In the article, Dan contends that the mission of the church owns the church — that leaders and congregants ought to feel accountable to the mission.


If congregations believed that the mission owns the church, defining that mission would be essential. It would be critical for them to ask, “If we were truly living out our mission, what would that look like? What programs would we offer? What social justice activities would we be engaged in? What would we need to offer to families with children? To teenagers? To our aging members?” These mission-based questions often go unasked, are not even thought of, in the struggle just to maintain. And so some congregations are content to go on, month after month, doing pretty much the same thing, year after year. Unless some crisis occurs, or some large issue that requires a lot of attention, the congregation marches in place, trying not to lose ground, but not moving forward in any significant way. Lyn sees the possibility for something more.

If our small congregations get clear about mission and vision, and if they agree to move forward with new ideas, they can be stronger presences in their communities. They can be strong and valuable influences in their towns and cities. They can make a difference in the world. That’s why this ministry matters.


This is the ministry Lyn feels called to do. This is a ministry that is needed by our District, by our Association, because so many of our congregations are small ones. We need Lyn, and we need many more Lyn’s, who see the value in our small congregations and in serving them.







2 Responses to “Why This Ministry Matters”

  1. Lizard Eater Says:

    From my perspective, I think this is the greatest need in our denomination right now. My perspective: a member of 12 year old congregation that has struggled every single year. What we need most, right now, is someone to teach us how to “do church.”

  2. nheege Says:

    I have a couple of suggestions for you. You might buy a few copies of Big Ideas for Small Congregations: a Friendly Guide for Leaders, by Jane Dwinell and Ellen Germann-Melosh. It’s a great resource. Pass them around and take a few minutes at a Board or Committee meeting to discuss a chapter or two. Second, figure out ways to get members of your congregation to connect with members of another healthy congregation that’s nearby. Or send a delegation to visit another church; set up some a meeting with their leadership for that visit, and prepare some good questions to ask them. Good luck, Lizard!

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