Next week I will be part of the leadership for a training event for the five presbyteries in South Carolina. In reviewing some data about those presbyteries, I found the following:
- While 51% of our churches in South Carolina have 100 or fewer members, only 3% of the inquirers and candidates are from churches in that size range.
- If you expand the membership range up to 300 members, you include 78% of our churches in the state, but still only 22% of their inquirers and candidates.
These numbers are generally in line with the national trends. While about 80% of all PC(USA) congregations have fewer than 250 members, only 30% or inquirers or candidates are from those size churches. Only 5% of our churches have more than 750 members, but 33% of inquirers and candidates come from churches of that size.
To meet the pastoral needs of our churches, many folks preparing for ministry will be called to serve in churches very different in size than the congregations that shaped them and opened them to hear the Spirit’s call to pastoral ministry. And as research and experience shows, congregational size is an indicator for many other differences. A 50-member church is not simply a smaller version of a 500-member congregation.
All partners in the preparation for ministry process need to consider how we provide training and support for those who are leaving homes in larger churches to make new homes in service with congregations of 100 or fewer members.
The Office of Vocation is currently recruiting a second class of “pastoral residents” for its “For Such a Time as This” program. Seven presbyteries are partnering with the Office and small congregations within their bounds to provide just this type of support to pastors who will serve their first call in those churches. Charleston-Atlantic Presbytery in South Carolina is among them. You can learn more about the “For Such a Time as This” program and how to apply for it (the deadline is March 15) at https://gamc.pcusa.org/ministries/vocation/such-time/#info.
Whether through field education, residency programs, or other means, all those who are preparing for ministry need to experience ministry in churches that differ significantly in size from the congregation they call home. God’s people live and serve together differently depending on how many gather in one place. But it is the same Spirit the binds them together and empowers their ministry. It may well be that the call to ministry will bring you to a new kind of home in a new land.