Small and Mighty Congregations
Small and Mighty Congregations
Photo of Rev. Sarah Movius Schurr in front of a red door wearing a stole

Rev. Sarah Movius Schurr, PWR Congregational Life Staff

Did you know that over half of the congregations in the UUA have under 120 members? Our faith has a lot of congregations that are considered small, by the people who look at size differences. Some are congregations of about 100 folks with a modest building and the support of a minister, even if part time. Others are exclusively lay-led groups of about 30 folks, meeting in rented space. Small congregations can be found in big cities and in isolated rural communities. You might say we have a lot of diversity amongst our Small and Mighty congregations.

Sometimes leading a small congregation can feel overwhelming. It includes gathering many needed volunteers from a limited pool of busy members, trying to offer good children's programing when you only have a few kids, and balancing a small budget with a lot of folks wanting a slice of the pie. Often the hardest part of leading a small congregation is managing expectations. If that other UU church has many and varied offerings in Adult Religious Education, shouldn't we? Why don't we have a big choir like the church where I grew up? A group of 50 folks just can't do the same work as a group of 550. Every size has unique gifts.

One of the keys to success for the Small and Mighty congregation is to notice what you do well and do that with pride. Maybe your small congregation has great chalice circles, or creative multigenerational worship. Smaller congregations can often be places of innovation and new ideas. After all, it's easier to maneuver a tugboat than an aircraft carrier. Let go of things that don't work or that you don't have the resources to do well. Bite off what you can chew. A small congregation can certainly take a delegation of protesters to the capitol to march for human rights each month. A small congregation can't singlehandedly create and sustain a homeless shelter. But you could partner with several other congregations on this kind of project and share the load. And there may be historic programs that just don't work any more. The yearly plant sale may have been a great fundraiser 30 years ago, but if it wears everyone out and makes little money, then it is best to let it go. Save your volunteers and your energy for things like good pastoral care programs and welcoming new folks.

The thing the Small and Mighty congregations have in common with their larger neighbors is the importance of the mission. For big and small congregations, it is important to always look to the mission in making key decisions. What is the work your congregation is on this earth to do? How can your congregation help make a difference? Keeping the mission as your guide can help the Small and Mighty congregation put limited time, labor, and other resources where they can make a real impact in the world and in the lives of our people.

About the Author

  • The Rev. Sarah Movius Schurr is the primary contact for all of the PWR congregations under 76 members. Sarah has a passion for small congregations and how to help them thrive. This interest was born out of her years as a parish minister with congregations that were new to ministry, as...

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