by Dr. Lane R. Seitz
This past Sunday I worshiped in one of the smaller congregations in our district. There were approximately 50 people in wor-ship. We have approximately 40 congregations in our district that average less than 50 people in worship each week. In most of those situations, the congregation is served by a retired or semi-retired pastor. They also may be part of a dual-parish arrangement with another congregation.
During the course of my time in that small congregation, the pastor and the members made reference several times that they were a “little” congregation. I have heard that statement in other congregations I have visited as well.
The way it is said, that word little seems to mean “insignificant.” The implication is that because the congregation is small in terms of numbers, it is an insignificant congregation. From my perspective, there are no insignificant congregations within our district or anywhere else in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod! Each of our congregations has great value and is significant for several reasons.
Congregations, regardless of their size, even very small ones, are significant, because they carry on a Word and Sacrament ministry. God’s Word of Law and Gospel is preached as well as taught. As a result, people get to hear about their Savior, Jesus, and the forgiveness He purchased for them on Calvary’s cross. In addition, the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are administered according to Christ’s institution for the comfort and strengthening of God’s people who are members there.
Having served two small congregations, one of the things I have observed is that the members tend to be very close-knit. Many times the members are related to one another. Even if they aren’t, they tend to look at one another as family. They stick together, and they care for one another. The members for the most part are very loyal to the congregation, sometimes traveling many miles to attend their church. They also tend to give sacrificially of their time, talents, and financial resources to keep the doors open. That is especially true when their numbers begin to dwindle!
Another reason why congregations, regardless of their size, are important is because they are mission outposts. They are places where the members are equipped to “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9) and “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Regardless of their location, there are people surrounding the church who do not know or believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Often the members of small rural congregations will say, “Everyone around here is churched” until they really think about it. Then they begin to identify new people who have moved into the area and others they know who are not affiliated with any church.
So, how large is your congregation? Are you a member of one of those “little” congregations? Do you tend to think of your congregation as being “insignificant?” Jesus doesn’t see it that way. After all, He once said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:2).
About the Author: Dr. Lane R. Seitz is president of the LCMS Minnesota South District. Reprinted by permission for the Minnesota South ‘District News.’