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The Parish Paper, Thank You Notes, Looking Ahead, Cemetery Plots, Pub Theology, NJ ELCA Synod Assembly


Coeditors: Herb Miller, Lyle E. Schaller, Cynthia Woolever –
August 2012 – Volume 20, Number 8
Copyright © 2012 by Cynthia Woolever

Keys to Growing a Small Church

Small churches can grow. A recent national study found that 15 percent of small churches—those with fewer than 125 attendees—grew in worship attend-ance over a five-year period.1 However, too many small congregations are like lockboxes that constrain the current size; this lockdown eventually leads to decline.
While increasing percentages of people are attend-ing megachurches, fewer than 2 percent of all congre-gations attract more than 1,000 weekly worshipers. Small churches are the most common type dotting the American landscape. The nature of these churches is complex, with a more diverse profile than larger churches. They exhibit unique leadership arrangements, member relationships, contextual pressures, and growth barriers. These features make pastoral and lay leader-ship more challenging because one-size-fits-all strate-gies do not fit all small churches.2

Size-Specific Methods
Some church-growth principles are applicable to congregations of all sizes. However, size is the most significant single factor in designing effective ap-proaches. These steps highlight how smaller church-es can become bigger churches.

Step 1—Increase the church’s visibility. Church-growth methods should be consistent with the con-gregation’s biblical understanding and theology, but methods are not the same thing as theology. Meth-ods are simply strategies. Ultimately, the message to newcomers and the community is always: we are located here, we care about you, and we welcome you. Hundreds of high-tech and low-tech tactics help spread that message.
High-tech efforts. An electronic presence enables a small church to create a billboard as large as any mega-church. New forms of social media multiply the ways to advertise for free or with minimal expense. Every small church needs a basic website and Facebook page. For help, consult Web-Empowered Ministry: Connect-ing with People through Websites, Social Media, and More, by Mark Stephenson (Abingdon Press, 2011).
Low-tech efforts. The church building and facili-ties need to be highly visible to foot and auto traffic by: readable and lighted signage; greeters in the parking lot and outside all entrances before and af-ter services; attractive church exterior seasonal signs, banners, or displays; and well-kept landscap-ing. If the church is nestled in an area with little traffic, post directional signs at nearby major inter-sections.
Aggressively advertise through low-cost approaches such as windshield fliers, direct mail to all households within a designated radius around the church, ads in free community newspapers, and posts on community bulletin boards (like grocery stores or gyms). Some churches distribute yard signs for members to display, while others give gift cards for a cup of coffee at a local shop.
Members can attend community events as a group wearing hats or t-shirts bearing the church logo. If parade, walk, or run routes pass by the church, con-sider organizing volunteers to hand participants cups of water or other refreshments. Many churches
host a free event once or twice a year to get to know others in the community. Above all, look for oppor-tunities to share church facilities with community groups.

Step 2—Increase the number of worship visitors and visitors to other congregational activities. Peo-ple cannot visit your church if they do not know it ex-ists, but knowing it exists does not automatically lead to new visitors. Today’s small-membership church leaders should target a fifteen-mile radius or more around their congregation for outreach.
Younger people and new residents may do Inter-net research before visiting a congregation. How-ever, the majority of people visit a congregation for the first time because someone personally invited them. Why do people return? First-time worship visitors say it is because they get a warm welcome from other attendees, enjoy the sermon message, and like the overall worship service experience.3
Growing churches of all sizes need to follow-up with their visitors. The most effective people for personal contacts are new members who joined in the past five years or members who joined during the tenure of the present pastor.
Churches attract first-time visitors of several varie-ties. People with an active church relationship can become members as transfers (those moving their membership from another congregation of the same denomination) or as switchers (those who move their membership from a church of a different de-nomination). Another visitor variety is people with a dormant active church relationship (returnees) or first-timers. The varied faith background of potential visitors calls for more diverse methods to ensure more results.

Step 3—Customize methods for your community. Glen Daman in Shepherding the Small Church4 sug-gests that knowing the predominate community val-ues steers leaders to strategies and programs that work in context. How would you describe your com-munity?
 Active vs. sedentary: Are people’s lifestyles filled with activities or do they spend their lei-sure time indoors? If active, be represented at sports and outdoor events. If sedentary, use windshield flyers or free newspaper ads.
 Family- vs. career-focused: Do people form goals based on their careers or on their family relationships? If family-focused, host a family picnic or offer daycare for a Parent’s Day/Night Out. If career-focused, offer evening programs.
 Stable population vs. mobile population: Does the population exhibit a high turnover rate, or is it generally stable? What factors contribute to the turnover rate? If the population is stable, reach out through family and friend networks. If the population is mobile, invest in an electronic presence and direct mail.

Step 4—Build on the unique strengths of small churches. Small churches excel at nurturing mem-bers’ spiritual growth and training young people to become future church leaders. The best small churches know how to help newcomers feel a strong sense of belonging. To produce the needed changes for growth, do so by addition rather than by subtraction. For example, start new groups and ministries for eighteen- to forty-four-year-olds. Look for ways to change the single-cell church, which operates like one small group where every-one knows everyone else, to a multiple-cell church. The latter adds its sense of mission, leadership, tra-dition, and location as bonding agents. Also, see Small Membership Congregations (http://www _Membership_Congregations.pdf).

Step 5—Become a learning congregation. Try new strategies and evaluate them. Learn from what does not work. Rework your methods and try again.
The Bottom Line
Anthony Pappas has said that a small church is like a loaf of French bread. The aroma and taste are great, but what a thick crust it has! Small churches are tough!5 Read the above paragraphs with the church’s leadership group. Underline the phrases that you feel are true of your church right now and the methods worth considering. What are the next steps to break open your small church?
1. U.S. Congregational Life Survey (
2. Download the free resource, Church Effectiveness Nugget, Vol. 14: 25 Turnaround Strategies for Small-Membership Congregations (
3. U.S. Congregational Life Survey (
4. Glenn Daman, Shepherding the Small Church (Grand Rap-ids, MI: Kregel, 2008), 34-36.
5. Anthony G. Pappas, ed. Inside the Small Church (Herndon, VA: Alban, 2002), 125.
Copyright © 2012 by Cynthia Woolever


Thank You Notes

To St. Stephens Church,

Hello, this is Jonathan Marcoux.  I wanted to send all of you a quick thank you note for the finals week care package that you sent me.  It means a lot that you were thinking of me as I was finishing up the school year.  I’m sorry this thank you is so delayed but I didn’t know how to contact the church and have had a wild month with graduating and starting my new job.

I’m currently working in State College, PA as an Engineering Tech for a company called Sound Technologies.  They manufacture ultrasounds right in State College as well as in Massachusetts and Denver and then sell them all over the world.  So far, in the few short weeks I’ve been there it has been a great experience and I love it so far.  Anyway, just wanted to make say thank you one more time for the care package.  Like I said earlier, it means a lot to me that you were thinking about how I was doing.


Jonathan Marcoux

Dear St. Stephen’s,

Thank you so much for the generous care package.  It was so nice to receive it while away at school.

Thank you!

Taryn & Ryan


Looking Ahead

Somerset Patriots Baseball Game

Friday, September 7, 2012, 7:00 p.m.


Tickets:  $10

Ticket orders will start at the end of July.

If you will be away during the summer and would like to

order tickets please contact Dale Morin at 908-565-3761

College Survival Care Packages

Care Packages will be sent out in the fall.

Look for College Survival Care Package forms in early August.

All college students who wish to receive a care package must fill out a new form.

Cemetery Plots Available


The church has deeds for several cemetery plots at Graceland Memorial Park in Kennelworth.

They are available to any member for just a transfer fee.  See Orvie Hoffman if interested.


“Pub Theology” with Pastor Chris

Where:  Flanagans, 2501 Plainfield Ave., So. Plainfield

When:   July 10, 2012 – 8:00–9:00 PM

          August 7, 2012 – 8:00-9:00 PM

Topics:    To be announced

This is an informal gathering for fellowship, refreshment and discussion. 

It’s open to the public, so bring your friends and neighbors.


New Jersey ELCA Synod Assembly

June 1 & 2, 2012


            We were fortunate to be the representatives for the 25th Annual Synod Assembly with Pastor Chris this year.  It was held at The College of New Jersey in Ewing, NJ.  Bishop E. Roy Riley did preside over the assembly, he is looking very well and thanked everyone for their cards and prayers for his surgery and recovery.  This was one of the quietest assembly we have ever been too, but it was very informative.

One of the first speakers were the ELCA Church wide Representative, Beth Lewis, President & CEO, Augsburg Fortress.  She did say she is always available to email too at Augsburg Fortress and will take the time to answer your questions.  She is

We did vote on amendments to the New Jersey Synod Constitution with the new Mission Districts.  There was also a report from a Ad Hoc Committee from the 2011 assembly in regards to concerning the consideration of Candidates for Leadership in the Church on the Basis of Citizenship or Immigration Status.  It was decided to follow the provisions of the ELCA constitution and not make any changes.  There is seven new Mission Churches in NJ.  We had to vote on people to attend the 2013 Churchwide Assembly, the only one that took a few votes was the Clergy who will be attending, they are The Rev. Matthew Cimorelli, Reformation Church, West Long Branch, The Rev. Sara E. Lilja, St. Matthew Church, Moorestown and The Rev. Christine R. Regan, St. Stephen Church, Woodbury.  If you would like more information on this please speak to us or Pastor Chris.

We were able to go to a number of workshops over the two days.  The one that all three of us went to and found it really very informative was called “LIFT” (Living into the Future Together).  This workshop was run by Assistant to the Bishop Rev. Judith Spindt.  It made it much easier to understand what the Mission Statement should follow for each church.  Pastor Chris invited Pastor Spindt to do a program at the Pub Theology on Tuesday, June 12, 2012.  I am hoping quite a few of you will be able to be there for this.  She made it so much easier to understand what the Mission Statement should be.

Next year will be a more important assembly in many of the Synods.  There will be twenty-five bishops elected next year and we have 65 synods now.  That is quite a few, Bishop E. Roy Riley is one of them who is retiring.  The Synod Council has asked Bishop Riley to do a video for those who are considering becoming our next Bishop.  Bishop Riley mentioned that we need to think about “Where the Church is going?”

Another discussion was brought up about keeping the health cost down.  The treasurer mentioned that only a few pastor and churches did the required paper work to lower our health insurance for pastors, we need to thank Pastor Chris for doing this work, we have received the discount.  It was mentioned that hopefully more churches will do it next year to bring the cost down.

We also were told that next year the NJ Synod Assembly will be Thursday, June 6 to Saturday, June 8, 2013 to be held at the Hilton in East Brunswick, NJ.

Thank you for allowing us to be the representatives for St. Stephen Lutheran Church.


Richard & Eloise Newton