A Large Church?

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Gwen Guftason-Zook, Pastor Candidate

The Old Fool once worked with mostly small churches. At present he is blessed to be a member of a large one. On Sunday morning, August 9, 2014,  Gwen Gustafson-Zook, pastor candidate with special assignments in Spiritual Formation and Outreach, preached the sermon at College Mennonite Church. The text for her sermon was John 9:1-41 and her theme was Life on the Margins.

Gwen told vivid stories relevant to present times and interpreted the old story of Jesus healing a man born blind. She was delighted when I told her I saw in her sermon a connection between spiritual formation and outreach. If her call is confirmed by the congregation she will join a team of pastors, each having special assignments as follows:

Pastor Daniel Yoder with the Genesis youth group who summarized the Bible in one hundred words

Pastor Daniel Yoder with the Genesis youth group who summarized the Bible in one hundred words

Pastors:   Phil Waite, – Team Leader; Lee Dengler, – Music & Choirs; Susan Dengler – Worship & Music; Willie Kanagy – Facilities & Finance;  Daniel Yoder – Jr. & Sr. High Youth; Talashia Keim Yoder – Young Adults; Pamela Yoder – Community Life and Pastoral Care; Marty Lehman – Administrative Pastor

Coordinators:  Sheila Yoder – Deaf Ministries; Claudia Granados – Hispanic Ministries.

Administrative Assistants:  Kathy Harshbarger – Receptionist; Diana Hershberger – Database Management; Sandra Shenk Lapp – Communications.; Jessica Whiticar, Director of Food Services And then there are commissions who support the activities of this large church

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My Joy with a birthday display of cards and a rose.

On Tuesday, August 12, 2014 Pastor Phil Waite hosted a banquet for retired ministers and their spouses/friends. Since it was My Joy’s birthday, I joyfully invited her to go with me and we enjoyed the banquet together. I estimate that there were 40 or 50 persons present. The group was larger than the membership of many Mennonite Churches. Pastor Phil spoke to us on the question “Can a Mennonite Church be Large?”

He told us that he was trained at AMBS to be the pastor of a small church, which describes most Mennonite Churches. To transition from being a normal-sized church to a large one requires different expectations, strategies and goals.

The Old Fool provides links to the College Mennonite Church because many of its ministries excel in quality.  I believe that every Mennonite Church, small or large, should be growing in size. I have learned to not despise small churches. They have strengths of intimacy and community that dare not be lost as the church grows larger. A large church can do what a small church cannot do.

Phil recommended that we read, “Inside the Large Congregation” by Susan Beumont. He concluded, as I remember it, that we must give our all to growth as a large congregation, or be content to shrink to a small church size.

About Martin Lehman

I was born 92 years ago, the son of a Mennonite pastor and organic gardener in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. At age 10 I was baptized as a member of the Marion Mennonite Church. I own the "Old Fool" moniker because I want to walk the Jesus Way even though the world and much of the church takes me as a fool for doing so. In my life I have moved from being a young conservative to an elderly radical. I tell that story in My Faith Journey posted on my website.
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3 Responses to A Large Church?

  1. Merle Cordell says:

    I’ve always been part of a smaller church. I think you have more closeness and more meaningful worship in the smaller assembly. Think of the tremendous administrative expense to “run” a large church! You have to break it down into small groups anyway to really “become church”.

  2. D. Lowell N issley says:

    I have no results from great surveys or such, only a personal observation: Small Mennonite churches are small because they unconsciously (or in some cases consciously) want to be small. They talk a good talk about evangelism but there is a Mennonite quiet-people-of-the-land psyche that is comfortable and keeps them small.

  3. I’ve felt the closeness and meaningful worship in the smaller assembly that you speak of. I’ve also been a part of two larger churches, Bahia Vista in Sarasota, and College Mennonite in Goshen. Neither is or was a perfect church. Yet the dynamic witness and worship available to a large church is often under estimated by those who have only experienced the closeness of a smaller church. It does require a change of perspective to accept the need to worship from Sunday to Sunday with a majority of people whose names are unknown. From data I gathered while General Secretary of the SE Conference I learned that as a rule members of our smaller churches gave more per capita than members of our larger churches. I’m not sure how this works out in the Indiana Michigan Conference.

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