Mission Trumps Size

St Mark's New Jersey

If you think you’re too small to have an effect, you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito”       (Bette Reese)

Many of us might assume that a church with only 32 members automatically qualifies as a “struggling church”, or even a dying church.  But in the case of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Keansburg, New Jersey, many of us would be wrong.

St. Mark’s housed a non-profit meal program out of their building for years, but when Hurricane Sandy hit, and the electricity went out, the program was unable to continue.  Members of St. Mark’s came down to the church after the disaster and found hungry people at their door.

At that moment, they demonstrated that they are a church with a vital mission.

They took the thawing food out of the church’s freezers and started cooking for anyone who showed up.  From there, a new meal program was born, as volunteers returned or showed up for the first time, to help feed their devastated community.  Today, they serve breakfast and lunch every day, about 5,000 meals a month.  A nurse, social worker and crisis counselor visit regularly.  And they also gather for weekly worship, healing services, and  monthly “Recovery Eucharist in the AA tradition”.

Most of St. Mark’s members are over the age of 70, but the congregation has welcomed in outside assistance, including other churches and Scouting groups, who come in to help them carry out their mission.

A few things worth noting in this story:

1) It reminds me that a disaster often gives us the urgent ability to respond to a crisis with compassion, and can become a wake up call about whatever true mission a church is called to carry out

2) A small group of people may not be able to do it all on their own, but with coordination and delegating, any size group can have a significant impact on the world.

3) A church full of 70-year-olds can be a vital church!  And with the changing demographics of our country, we are going to have to stop assuming that churches need big Sunday Schools and youth programs in order to be vital.  Vitality is not limited by age or size, but only by our ability to respond creatively to what the Holy Spirit is doing around us.

Here’s another story about a church that found vitality and a new mission in the midst of a disaster.

2 responses to “Mission Trumps Size

  1. This is just what I needed as I am serving a small congregation as interim pastor. For 8 months, comments that always surfaces are: “Wish we had more kids.” “There used to be 200 in the Sunday School.” Recently, I was talking to the Church Council President about embracing what we have
    and growing those ministries…and to stop crying about what we do not have.

    What we do have is this:
    ~5 groups who meet at our church every week, Al Anon, 2-AA groups,
    Nar Anon and EDA! Your comment about “Recovery Eucharist in the AA
    tradition is intriguing!” It is the nudge that I needed. Thank you!
    ~A group of older active members and friends of the church and a few
    young families…5 children in Sunday School. We need to nurture
    the children, but, also, not ignore the needs of the Seniors among us.
    Thank you again!

  2. Thanks for your comments, Mary Jo! I would encourage you to explore how the AA ministry intersects with the church’s and what role that relationship plays in your community. Also, the idea of bringing kids and seniors together might be one to explore. Blessings in your ministry!

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