Seeking Our Place Along the River

If I learned anything this past Sunday during my time with First Presbyterian Church in Wilson, NC it is that individuals are concerned about the Church and the changes that are taking place. In discussions leading up to my visit, Rev. Dr. Tom Watkins (D. Min. 2010) asked that in addition to talking about Union, I talk about what I have seen as I visit different churches through North Carolina and how ministry and the Church are changing. This special Sunday School class was billed as “The Church Today – A study of changes in church and culture.” I was told to expect 5-10 attendees, so needless to say I was surprised when we began bringing in extra chairs and filled the room with individuals who were in their 20s all the way to individuals in their 80s.

The church is changing and people are seeking answers.


Throughout our discussion, several questions were asked and I did my best to answer. One question sat with me though- throughout worship, on my drive home, as I tried to fall asleep, and all day on Monday.

“What about churches that are multi-generational and relatively large compared to this new norm?  What do those churches do when their work in the community is no longer relevant, or needed? What do those churches do when the focus is being placed on these new churches and the small ones?  Basically, where is our place in all of this?”

I was stumped. In all honesty, I don’t know that I ever even thought about this before. I am very open that my passion in ministry is working with those new and small congregations, so is it possible that I also forgot the larger churches in the mix?

It is easy to think that congregations with multiple worship services, filled pews, active youth and young adult programs, and beautiful websites have it all figured out. When we can look around the corner to congregations that are closing their door for the final time, who wouldn’t think “they are fine” when seeing these larger congregations?

He was right though. These congregations are seeking answers as well and after several days of thinking about this, I hope that this answer (or really, stream of thoughts) reaches deeper than my initial answer in the moment–


I urge you to remember why the doors of our church first opened– to share God’s Light with those who would enter in, but also walk past.

I urge you to hold on to that Light, that hope even as the community changes around you. As the calendar pages fall away, the needs of the community shift. What was a successful outreach program five, ten, and twenty years ago may not work today– and that is ok. What brought in the “young people” as recently as last year may not work next week– that is ok as well.

In a changing world, God’s Word remains constant. In a changing world, God’s love and grace has and will always be needed. In a changing world, whether the community recognizes it or not, the church is the cornerstone for hope.

I urge all congregations to celebrate past ministries, but to really begin evaluating the new needs of the community in which you minister. Don’t assume that the ideas presented in a single session meeting are the only answers, but go into the community and have conversations, build relationships.

There might be a family right across the street that struggles to put food on the table each day, but they are ashamed to come ask for help.

There might be children who have no safe place to play or do homework after school, but they might flourish with a little bit of dedicated time on the church playground and around tables in the fellowship hall each week.

There might be another church who has a list of needs around them, but they can’t do it alone.

In a changing world, when it seems that all focus (within the Church) has been placed on new and small congregations, know that you are a reminder of what God has and continues to do in our world. Know that by simply being, you are ministering. Know that by opening your doors every Sunday, you are offering hope to those new and small churches.


418436_10100226580702501_333033236_nTwice last week I had conversations with mentors who marveled at the fact that in “doing nothing” at their congregations, they were making a difference; by simply being themselves, they were helping congregations heal from past hurt. To the larger churches who are seeking their place in this changing world, I urge you to continue to be present, offering a cornerstone of light and hope in this dark world through your worship and your relationships with those who both enter and walk past your doors.

Every rock and stick that sits in a riverbed, appearing to be nothing, changes the course of the water.

You are far more than any rock or stick, so imagine the changes you are making when it seems that life, that ministry, has come to a halt. New churches, small churches, and large churches– we are all playing our own role in this changing world even when we feel forgotten or irrelevant, and we are all shifting the waters in some way, whether we see it or not.

Rev. Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer

5 thoughts on “Seeking Our Place Along the River

  1. I very much appreciate and agree that our ministry efforts should be continually evaluated and reevaluated because the circumstances and situations of the communities within which we are situated changes over time. Economies, cultures, and social circumstances are rarely static. The recommendations put forth in this article are worth considering by all congregations, large or smaller. That being said, as the pastor of two very, very small congregations I do not accept the premise that the focus of our denomination is on small and new churches. New churches, 1001 Worshipping Communities – perhaps, these seem to be getting a lot of attention and publication. Small churches, at least from my experience and perspective, are ignored and forgotten.

    I chair the Church Development Committee in our Presbytery and when we began searching for material and resources to help small churches strategize and think about ways to be the church in our changing times, well, we couldn’t find any that seemed geared towards our situation. For these reasons we have begun an effort to Reimagine Small Church Ministry, and by small we mean an average worship attendance of 75 people or less. I plan to share this article with our committee because it is insightful, but I do not agree that we are the focus.


    • Thank you for your comments, Tony! I think this is very much a “grass is greener” situation. I know that in the Presbytery where this particular congregation is located, there is a new emphasis on small congregations which may contribute to this perspective. I think all of these perspectives are very valid though!

      I hope your congregation finds this as a god jumping point! Please let Union know if we can help find any resources along the way.


  2. I feel “finding your fit” or “finding your role” is equally as important for a church to do as it is for an individual who is searching for a church home. Since we have acknowledged that fewer of those seeking a church home are drawn to our traditionally larger churches, many larger churches are trying to discern their fit/role. Longstanding methods of connecting are no longer as effective. The first reaction is to tweak and tweak these methods and then tweak them again. A great deal of angst is spent on how to get the method to connect to those searching. Too often the method is the square peg attempting to fit in a round hole.

    What has to happen in order for the traditionally larger churches to honor the method that used to work and then devise a new/different avenue for connection? Not only are you fighting tradition and comfort but also you have to drive those who are ingrained to move against their own grain.

    We have to realize that although we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, but we often have to change the bath water itself before the baby is truly cleansed.


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