As comments to my Home Mission post demonstrate there is some distrust of larger Baptist Churches in the UK. As someone who was previously a minister of a Home Mission supported small church I have some experience on both sides of this; there is something dispiriting about the suspicion that the life of your congregation is being sucked out by a larger church nearby enticing people because the worship / childrens work / youth work / preaching is 'better'. I am very aware of the issues of power, manipulation and control that some allude to and there are also theological and pastoral questions to be asked about church size.
But many of the opportunities we have are because of our size and the resources we have been blessed with. In recent years our church has used about 30% of its income to support mission in the UK and overseas. This has included giving about £9000 each year to both BMS and Home Mission. We are fortunate to have a number of people in the church who work in Christian organisations and some of our mission finance supports them and the organisations they work with (organisations like the Message, Innervation and Epiphany). We act as a home church base to folk who are forming a Church planting team in Manchester (led by Urban Expression); which we support financially, prayerfully and practically. Last year we released a number of church members to be involved in church plant in a nearby town (led by another Baptist Church). The church releases me to be involved in the wider life of the Union and the Association; another member of the congregation serves as a Board Member for the Evangelical Alliance. In the last year we have provided some assistance to other Baptist churches nearby: our finance administrator has helped two of them with getting their accounts in order, we have supplied teams of people to help with preaching and leading worship. I have been able to work with two other churches in the hope it would help them with some particular challenges. In the last couple of years I have had opportunity to do things with our Baptist Colleges and would be open to doing more. We are always willing for our facilities to be used by the Association to host events.
We are not the largest Baptist church in our association but the three largest (which includes us) account for 12% of the members in the association; our church alone counts for 3.5% of the members but 5% of the Home Mission giving. The health and vitality of these larger churches is important for our Union life. If our church grows by 30% in the next five years it has the potential to significantly add to the life of the Association.
I’m not naive enough to believe that it is all good news. I’m sure some larger churches don’t act responsibly and misunderstandings arise. There are disadvantages with being larger, we more easily suffer institutional inertia and it takes time to get things to happen; the adaptability of a smaller church to its local context and to the pastoral needs of people is not to be underestimated.
Yet there is another side to this. From the perspective of a smaller church it can seem that we have everything we need but the reality is that we have a constant struggle to find people to fill roles in church life. There are many things we would like to do but we can’t because we don’t have the people or finance to do them (unless we reduce our mission support). Given the challenges we face, and the negative attitude of others towards us, it is often easier to plough our own furrow rather than seek to work with other churches nearby.
Returning to the link with my earlier post; supporting and working with larger churches has the potential to unleash good, imaginative and beneficial things for our Union. If we ignore them everyone is the loser and our ability to share in the mission of God is compromised.