A book that truly understand small churches
Making the Small Church Effective by Carl S. Dudley stands out as truly different among the many books about strengthening the church and helping churches of various sizes grow. I have much experience in smaller churches myself. I grew up in a rural church of about 55 attendees and as a pastor for over thirty years have served only two churches, one of about 250 attendees and one about 150 in attendance. So from experience as well as education and personal reading, I feel more than usually qualified to critique this book. My conclusion is that Dr. Dudley truly understands the dynamics of small churches and more than that, he sees value in the things they typically value. So much of literature today derives its values form the values of the largest churches and looks down on the perspectives of smaller fellowships. But this book does not.
Caring, Memory and Place are important assets of the small church
Many have discussed the single cell church. However, Dudley explains how the single “caring cell” expands to include churches of 150+ in attendance with his concept of those who “know each other personally, by family, name, and place in the community (p. 48).” In an ethnic congregation this “caring cell” church might have several hundred in its circle. Dr. Dudley highlights and explains the importance of memory in the small church. But he focuses on its positive power. “Storytellers who remember events through the eyes of courage and hope can turn memory into ministry (p. 86).” He also shares valuable insights into the importance and value of “place” in small churches better than anyone I have ever read or heard explain it before. “Place is important in the caring cell. Here we have been touched and here we remember. But that place will lose its importance if others are not permitted to share the experience (p. 96).”
How do small churches interact with leaders?
Part three titled Coping delves into the interaction of small churches with pastors, districts and denominational officials, and with the idea of formal goal setting and planning in general. Again, Dudley shows wise sensitivity toward the tension between pastors who seek to plan strategy in a small church like they were taught to do in seminary and small church leaders who are used to living week to week and outliving the terms of one pastor after another. There is also an interesting chapter (9) explaining how churches in differing settings (old first, ethnic, high commitment, stable neighborhood, growing neighborhood, declining neighborhood), differ in their concerns and reactions.
I highly recommend this book.
This book should be required reading for pastors in training. Even after my years of experience, I found helpful hints and confirmations of some of my own ideas. For any pastor beginning ministry in a small church, it could be a life-saver.