Looking to the future – Simon McLeay

Simon is Senior Minister at St Peters in the City in Tauranga

I’m convinced that God has a good future for his Church.  I see signs of life and health in many churches.  I also wonder whether it is time for us to move away from a “one size fits all’ mentality when it comes to ministry.  I’m currently doing some study leave and looking at the leadership styles required for different sized churches.  I’m asking myself, what do I need to do differently in my next 25 years in Ministry?  One approach I am looking at relates to the size of the church that we are leading.  In 1986 Arlin Rothauge wrote about four different sized churches in the classic “Sizing up a congregation for new member ministry.” (Rothauge. Episcopal Church Center,June 1986)   This is a great little book that introduces the idea that we need to take different approaches in different sized churches.  (It is freely available for download at the Bishop Marmion Resource Center.)

I had a look through last year’s attendance statistics and realised that approximately 44% of our churches fit into what Rothauge calls the “Family Church” size 0-50.  About 46% of our churches fit into the “Pastoral Church size” 50-150, and around 10% fit into the bigger churches size categories.

What I like about Rothauge’s approach is the idea that each church size can be healthy, growing and outward looking, they just have different dynamics about them.

Here’s my idea, perhaps we have been going about recruitment in the wrong way for the last few years.  Perhaps the way that we recruit works fine for the pastoral size church, full-time ordained ministers looking for a spiritual career.  But, perhaps we need to be even more explicit in considering whether we need a different track for the “Family Churches”.  Maybe for “Family Churches” we need to say, ‘This is a different category and we are going to recruit a Locally Ordained Minister.”  This would give us greater clarity about who we are looking for.  The team at KCML could continue to train these ‘pastors’ but we would need to change our expectations. They would need to have the equivalent of the first year of the Theology Degree, but then we would enter them into an internship program followed by an expectation that they would in time complete a Theology Degree. Now I know this has been tried and some candidates have failed to engage with the program.  That is not a reason to give up.  I think the problem has been when “NOM” candidiates have seen “LOM” as a back door into ministry.  Family churches have different needs to larger churches.

My second point is that as a church we need to stop worrying about small churches and their assets. If a small church decides it is time to close – let’s help them.  Often this happens when a ‘die-hard’ member moves on or dies.  I have had the privilege of helping several churches close when they were ready.  When a congregation is ready there is no big fight in Presbytery and no massive waste of time on appeals.  Usually if a church choses to close, the members will know where they want to go and any reasonable Presbytery would make a donation of some sort to that church.  For example if ABC Presbyterian church in ABC got down to 10 members and they all decided ‘let’s go to the Baptists.  They might think, “Jenny the pastor down there is really nice and my grandkids go there anyway, we’ll just have to take our hearing aids out when the music starts.”  The Presbytery then might wind the parish up, sell the church, and give some of the proceeds to PressGo, some to another area of the Presbytery, but perhaps some to the ABC Baptist church asking them to look after our folk.  If there is good will this sort of thing can be done.

If our smaller churches want to hold on, then let them use that energy to reach out, or pour it into spiritual growth, or worship.  Smaller churches know that there are real challenges to maintaining charities commission registration and building health and safety and these external requirements may lead them to close.

Over the years I have noticed that money follows mission, when people are passionate about something they will sacrifice for it.  This is an important dynamic and one that we need to be careful of if we imagine ‘a big dollop of money’ from outside helping a ministry.  Yes, sometimes ‘a dollop of money’ can help, but often the spiritual discipline of giving and sacrifice is essential to the ongoing growth of the ministry.

My argument is that as a denomination we need to recognise that we have different sized churches and recognise that we need different approaches to leadership, growth and ministry.  Personally, I am currently interested in slightly larger churches; and I am keen to talk with Presbyterian Ministers working in churches with between 150 to 350 active members/attenders.

One thought on “Looking to the future – Simon McLeay

  1. Hi Simon, I too am still very engaged with Rothauge’s thinking of church size. However, he states reasonable upfront that the Family Size church really only wants a ‘chaplain’ to journey with them. The patriarchs and matriarchs are the true leaders (gatekeepers) of a Family Size church which can leave very little room for change within the congregation. Without change the possibility of growth is lessened.
    A factor that seems is coming to the fore more and more (and I believe relates closely to church size) is what is it that gives the church life. I know that I’m beginning to tread on (what is for some) slippery ground; if the motivation for keeping a church above ground is because it to keep people happy in the stale tradition of attending church every Sunday morning then perhaps we should be encouraging them earlier to attend somewhere else to free up resources.

    I know that last statement won’t engender too many positive responses as it hardly seems ‘pastoral’. But sometimes the children need to have the ‘talk’ to their parents about downsizing and moving somewhere more appropriate for their needs. Just saying…


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