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Small congregations (Aug. 3, 2004)

Small congregations (Aug. 3, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Small congregations

Aug. 3, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0129}

NOTE:  A headshot of Whitaker is available at

An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**

In 1978 Carl S. Dudley wrote a book titled "Making the Small Church Effective" (Abingdon, 1978). In this classic study of small churches Dudley observed that small churches constitute the majority of Protestant churches in America and are located everywhere, from isolated rural areas to affluent suburban neighborhoods.

He wrote: "Small churches are tenacious. Some would call them tough. They do not give up when faced with impossible problems. Neither do they experience rapid shifts of membership. Over the years, some may grow and others decline. But they are peculiarly resistant to programmed intervention from outside sources. Million-dollar programs for membership recruitment leave them relatively unaffected. In membership participation, the majority of small churches have not varied 10 percent in any given decade."

Dudley has written a revision of his book, and it is titled "Effective Small Churches in the Twenty-first Century" (Abingdon Press, 2003). In a new introduction he noted that the relative strength of small churches has not declined in the past quarter century. He wrote: "In 1975, we found that in mainline denominations, the smallest 50 percent of churches served about 15 percent of the members, and conversely, the largest 15 percent of the churches served 50 percent of the members. The same distribution of membership was reported among mainline denominations in 2000. Small churches are not just surviving; numerically they are the majority. In the 'Faith Communities Today (FACT) Report,' the largest and most inclusive study of faith communities in the United States, half of the congregations have less than one hundred Regularly Participating Adults."

Having been raised in a small church and having served as pastor of small churches I think I understand their strengths and needs. In the Florida Conference we seek to enable small churches to have a more effective ministry. We believe that establishing cooperative parishes or clusters will be one means of strengthening small churches.

The title of Carl S. Dudley's classic works and its revision is significant. He refers to "effective" small churches. A small church can be a powerful servant of Jesus Christ. It will be effective if its members have a vital faith, a commitment to mission and a genuine openness to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.


This commentary relates to Local Church Transformation.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Annual Conference.