Posts Tagged ‘Children in the Small Church’

Snow, Jan 17 2016I came across one of the loveliest words of encouragement for small churches that I have read in a while.  Rachel S. Gerber, a denominational minister for youth and young adults for Mennonite Church USA, and participant in a tiny Mennonite fellowship, titled her post this way:  To small congregations: You are enoughShe has important things to say about the deep faith formation that occurs when children feel deeply loved in a small church.  They know they belong, and they know they are needed.

Noting that congregations often fall prey to “if only” thinking (i.e. if only we had more children and bigger and better programs, we could attract more families), Gerber declares, “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.”

I love the way she closes her post, too: “To my dear small congregation, you are not lacking.  You are such an asset.  You are enough.”

That’s exactly what I want to say to my own small congregation.

Click on the title, read the whole post, and be encouraged to keep on keeping on, in the name of Jesus.


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Stories don’t always have to be big to be good.  They don’t have to be exciting to be powerful.  Here is a sermon inviting disciples and congregations of disciples to point to Jesus by telling the simple, beautiful stories that are ours.  It follows up on the sermon Be Opened, and it celebrates my home congregation’s heritage.


Have We Got a Story to Tell!
A Sermon on Exodus 3:7-12, 4:10-13; Romans 10:14-15, with allusions to Mark 7:31-37
Homecoming at Morton Church

At first Moses liked what God was saying. God was saying, “My people are crying out in pain in Egypt, and I’m going to do something about it!” Even though Moses had been living in Midian for decades, he remembered well the horrible abuse the Hebrew people were experiencing at the hands of the Egyptians: unjust working conditions, physical and emotional violence and more. Doggone right something needed to be done! High time! Past time!

“I’ve seen my people’s misery in Egypt,” God was saying, “and I’m going to get them out of there and take them to a good new place.” “Wow!” Moses was thinking.

“ And so…and so,” God continued. I am sending you to Egypt to speak up for me. Tell the people that I know very well what is going on with them. I see how they are suffering. Tell them the good plans I have for them. And tell Pharaoh that I say, ‘Let my people go!’” Then you lead the people to their new home.

Moses was utterly gotten away with. “Who, me?” he exclaimed. What made God think anybody would listen to him? Nobody was going to listen to him. So Moses gave God all sorts of reasons why this was not a good idea. Moses raised a series of objections, ending with one that really was serious. “But I am slow of speech and slow of tongue,” Moses objected.

Perhaps Moses simply felt that he wasn’t particularly good at putting words together. But the original Hebrew text there uses a pretty strong word for what ailed Moses. It reads “heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue,” like there really is some physical difficulty.

Moses probably had a physical problem—perhaps a cleft palate—that meant he had to work really hard to make himself understood. And the reality is, if you have speech related difficulties, people often wonder if your intelligence is intact, and if you really have anything to say. Is it worth the effort to listen.

With substandard speech, who was Moses to be speaking publicly, and in the name of God? No! Just no!

“Lord, please send someone else!”

But when God’s got a job to be done, somebody has to go. Somebody’s got to speak up. Just like Paul said in our epistle lesson today, “How are people going to trust Jesus unless they hear about him? And how are they going to hear unless somebody tells them the good news? Somebody’s got to tell the story.”

Often people think that telling the story of Jesus is a job for someone else, and for reasons a lot like Moses’ reasons. They feel inadequate. Surely somebody else can do a much better job. What about a trained professional?

Maybe it’s partly a hearing problem, as we were talking about last Sunday. Last week we noted that you have to hear and repeat words in order to be able to speak them. Hearing and speaking go together. To speak the word of Christ’s love to others, we must first hear it—hear it deep down in our souls, and let it heal us.

Or maybe it’s that we aren’t sure we have a story to tell, not an interesting story, anyway. Not a powerful, riveting story like Paul’s story, where the light of God literally knocked him down and turned him completely around. How can we be effective witnesses unless we have something big and exciting to share? Who’s going to listen to us? (more…)

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'Retired teacher with grandchild / Insegnante in pensione con nipotina' photo (c) 2013, Matteo Bagnoli - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/One of my missions is to challenge the assumption that small congregations have little or nothing to offer children.  Here are some more thoughts about how a healthy, loving small church can be a great blessing to families with children. There are good reasons for choosing a small church for your children’s sake. If you become involved with this kind of congregation,

•    Your children will have a nurturing extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who will truly be interested in them, encourage them, attend their sports events and performances, and celebrate their milestones. My daughter describes the senior generation at our church as her “grandfriends.”
•    Your children will learn how to follow Jesus from observing adult disciples of Jesus, knowing them well, and serving actively alongside them. For the rest of their lives, your children will remember these role models in faith.
•    Your children’s concerns will be taken very seriously. The pastor has time to spend with your children and can get to know each child personally.
•    Your children’s talents will be welcomed and appreciated. What better place, for example, for a young musician to make his or her debut than in the midst of the gracious circle of a small church?
•    Through ongoing relationships, your children and older adults will enrich one another’s lives and learn how to love and care faithfully for one another over the long haul of life.

I sometimes hear people say that they want their children to go to church with a large group of children. While it may be more exciting and more fun to be around a lot of children their own age, school, scouting, sports teams, and other programs meet that social need well. What is rare in today’s society is the opportunity for different generations to mix and become one people in life and mission together. In today’s world people of different ages and life stages are stratified and lead largely separate lives. They even live in separate communities. Congregations are often stratified in the same way. Intergenerational small congregations offer a much-needed alternative that challenges everyone–younger, older, and in-between–to love each other as neighbors.

If you are looking for a church for your family, don’t just automatically drive past a small church. Stop in and take time to get to know the people.   Give them a chance to bless you and your children.  You may find that God has led you home.

You may also be interested in these posts:

Mr. Rogers, children, and the small church…

Small Church Children: Growing Up in the Arms of the Saints

How One Family Ended Up Choosing A Small Church


Click on Children in the Church in the sidebar for more links.

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Baptism day in the arms of Luanne, a Morton mother in faith

Laura on baptism day in the arms of Luanne, a Morton mother in faith

One Saturday night in early June the Morton congregation gathered to honor our most recent high school graduate, my daughter, Laura.  As they do for all our graduates, the Presbyterian Women asked Laura what she would like to have on the menu, and she asked for chicken pastry, a local favorite, and whatever covered dishes people wanted to bring.   Laura is an artist, so the women turned the fellowship hall into an art gallery showcasing Laura’s work from toddlerhood to now.

People stood and told Laura what she means to them, wished her well, and promised to pray for her as she goes forward through her studies at Guilford College and beyond.   One of our ruling elders presented her with a study Bible inscribed from the congregation.

Mine weren’t the only eyes that were overflowing.    I could barely get the words out as I tried to tell the congregation how much their loving, active support has meant to Laura, my husband, John, and our family through the years, starting on the Sunday a few months before her birth when I stood beside the baptismal font and told them that we would soon need to use it because we had a baby on the way.


Laura and Luanne at the graduation party

In the years to come, Laura will remember the Morton saints and what they have taught her about love and compassion, and service and justice and righteousness.  She will remember serving alongside them in ministry.  I am so glad that she has grown up knowing and observing these folks over a long period of time.  I had that experience in the small church where I grew up, and I still remember the lessons I learned from those saints.  I still want to be like them.  Many of them have finished the race, and I look forward to a glad reunion with them one day.

I asked another grown-up child of Morton Church what this experience has meant to him.  Andy is now a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry at a university in California.  He said that he has taken all the Morton saints with him.  They–we–go with him as he moves through life.  When our grown-up children come home, we love to bless them all over again and send them back out on whatever missions God has for them.

I wish every child could have an experience like this, to grow up knowing a number of strong mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, sisters and brothers in the faith.  I wish every child could have a graduation party like the one the church gave my daughter.  I wish every child could experience God’s love in this way.  Next year we’ll be celebrating Elizabeth’s graduation, and once again, we’ll need to make sure the kleenex box is on hand.

Friends, if someone tells you that small churches don’t have anything to offer children, I invite you to join me in begging to differ.  Small churches of loving, committed people can be just the cloud of witnesses that children need to grow into loving adult disciples of Jesus Christ.

Thank you, Morton Church!  Thank you, God!

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sunday school 3

Rhonda Waters of the Anglican Diocese of Montreal has prepared nine months of simple, flexible, multi-age lesson plans for small congregations, and she has posted them on a site called  Stories on the Way.  They are undated, and plans appropriate for the different seasons of the liturgical year are included.  She includes several lesson plans on each topic.  For example, there are three on the theme of creation.These plans can be used in Sunday School or other educational settings as needed.  Rhonda has made these available for downloading free of charge as a gift from her and from the St. Barnabas Anglican Church in St. Lambert, Quebec and the Anglican Diocese of Montreal.Thank you, Rhonda, and all our Anglican sisters and brothers in Montreal!Here is an overview of the nine-month plan:Creation (as told in Genesis 1)
Moses and the Burning Bush (Exodus 3)
Commandments (Deuteronomy 30:11-19)
New heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65)
The Christmas Story (Gospel mash-up version)
Bonus days (small activities/Kids in Church activities)
Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17)
Calling of the Disciples (Matthew 4:18-22)
Peter walks on Water (Matthew 14:22-33)
Jesus’ Temptation in the Wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11)
The Last Supper (Matthew 26:20-30) (see also Foot Washing (John 13:3-17)
Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection
Palm Sunday
Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection
(Kids in Church Easter Activity)
Parable of the Sheep (and the Goats) (Matthew 25:31-40)
The Story of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-12)
The Story of Pentecost (Kids in Church Activity)
Psalm 139


See this post for another free source of curriculum: Free Online Sunday School Curriculum: faithelement.  Check out the Resource tab for VBS resources.

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