It could have been the downtown in any small city, a place of transition where many cultures meet and people learn how to live together:

  • Pre-school children romped in an enclosed playground…

  • A group of developmentally disabled adults boarded a bus….

  • Members of an AA group assembled for their weekly meeting….

  • An elderly gentleman walked into a free dental clinic…

  • On her way to work, a middle-aged woman escorted her mother to senior day care…

  • Unemployed men and women finished a free, hot meal with full stomachs…

  • Parents received much needed clothing for their young children…

  • A recently widowed woman obtained helpful counseling.

The venue for these acts of service might surprise you. All took place in various local churches in a single southeastern Wisconsin community.

The churches represented here are not mega-churches. In some ways, they are congregations in transition. Their architecture reflects the stately traditions of many years ago, when the wealthy and successful members of the community built beautiful houses of worship. Today, those benefactors are long gone, the sanctuary may need a fresh coat of paint and the pastor wears many hats. But each of these congregations is actively and creatively carrying out its God-given mandate to love and to serve.

 

Who leads these communities of faith and outreach? An African-American man in his 30s called into ministry from a successful career... a bilingual pastor who conducts services in both English and Spanish... a woman and her husband who each pastor a different church... an elderly priest who moved from a larger congregation to a place where he could directly make a difference... a bi-vocational minister whose other part-time job helps his family make ends meet.

Opportunity and Challenge

  • A quick look at the American Church reveals a culture in change. Research identifies several major trends that provide both opportunities and challenges for local church pastors:
  • Churches are either getting smaller or larger. According to the National Congregational Survey, 71 percent of U.S. congregations have fewer than 100 regularly participating adult members, and the median congregation has just 75 regular participants. Only 10 percent of U.S. congregations have more than 350 participants — though those congregations account for almost half of all churchgoers.
  • Rural churches face special challenges as increasing numbers of people move to urban areas, taking their financial resources with them. As a result, many rural churches have difficulty finding full-time pastors.
  • George Barna (The Barna Update, October 10, 2005) has reported that more than 20 million adults throughout the nation are “revolutionaries.” In Barna’s words, “These are people who are less interested in attending church than in being the church. We found that there is a significant distinction in the minds of many people between the local church — with a small ‘c’ — and the universal Church — with a capital ‘C’. Revolutionaries tend to be more focused on being the Church, capital C, whether they participate in a congregational church or not.”
  • Clergy are leaving parish ministry in greater numbers and after shorter tenures, according to a 2005 report by Patricia Chung for Pulpit and Pew. The average pastor changes assignments every three years and has little opportunity to advance to larger, more prestigious positions because comparatively few are available.
  • The average salary for pastors of congregations with less than 100 members is $32,500 (Christian Ministry Resources report, 2004).
  • According to H.B London, Jr. and Neil B. Wiseman, in their book Pastors at Greater Risk (Regal Books, 2003), 90 percent of pastors feel inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands, and 70 percent do not have a close friend.

The Need for Retreat