A Tiny Church Is Like A Seed

By Darcey Elizabeth Hegvik Laine

An acorn standing on end, peeking over some moss and leaf litter.

I’ve noticed that tiny churches (fewer than 30 members) who thrive are good at NOT doing things, are good at letting things go. You’ve already figured out that a tiny church cannot have a Welcoming Congregation team and a Green Sanctuary team and a Safer Congregations team and a Worship Team and the dozen or so other teams a big congregation has all at the same time. Really, we can only do one thing at a time. Not everything has to become an annual tradition. You don’t have to keep all the plates spinning, like that old vaudeville act. Tiny congregations learn how to put plates down, and spin the one that’s most important right now.

Remember, just because you put a plate down, doesn’t mean it’s lost or gone. All that work you did on Welcoming Congregation is still part of who you are, even while you are putting all your energy into anti-racism work, or family ministry, or making worship more accessible. Tiny congregations preserve these ministries through stories, through traditions, through fidelity. Think about how an acorn holds all the material needed to grow an oak tree in a tiny nut. They do this by storing everything they need to remember to start again, and some nutritious energy for starting things.

Tiny Church Worship Is Like an Acorn

Notice that you only need one acorn to grow an oak tree, you don’t need a different one for the leaves, and one for branches and on for roots. This is why Tiny congregations sometimes have different worship traditions, and differently shaped leadership teams than their larger siblings. Tiny church worship can be like a seed. Anything important that is going to be part of church life will at least be touched on in worship (and coffee hour) over the course of the year. That’s why tiny churches are more likely to have joys and sorrows or spoken announcements on Sunday morning, because Sunday morning is the seed that has to remember the whole oak tree.

Whenever you are wondering what is missing from your congregational life, consider what has been part of worship in the past year or two. It’s possible you already naturally do all the things. Think about your worship last year. How did you include children? How did you honor grief? How did you remember your UU history and heritage? How did you stay connected to the larger UU world? How are you working to become an anti-oppressive organization? How did you encourage spiritual growth? How did you embody beloved community? How do you orient and welcome newcomers?

If you want, sit down with your leadership team and have a conversation about you most want to call forth in the life of the congregation right now. See if you can figure out how you are already including these things in your rituals and traditions. Perhaps there is something you have done in the past that it’s time to do again. I am frequently amazed at the wisdom behind the traditions and patterns that seem to “just happen” in our congregations in a natural way, and the wisdom that allows other things that have run out of energy to end. Trust your congregational wisdom about what is the right thing to grow right now, and what you will trust yourselves to put down now and pick up when the time is right – like a seed ready for the right time to sprout.

About the Author

Darcey Elizabeth Hegvik Laine

Rev. Darcey Laine lives in Ithaca, NY and serves congregations in Athens, PA and Cortland, NY. Over the years Rev. Laine has consulted and preached at a number of small congregations, which taught her the blessings of small-church ministry.

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