Many missionary colleagues and I have asked about measuring success in mission. In a desire to be accountable to the church through which the Lord has called us to ministry, we measure the fruit of our activities in numbers. This may give the impression that is “bigger is better and smaller is a failure.”
I want to make it clear what I do not mean before I go any further in this conversation. I do not mean that we should not report on numbers or celebrate when the Lord gives us success. The disciples definitely reported on the progress of the mission of God in numbers (Acts 6:7).
What I want to share is that those who grow large grow large by growing small. In other words, they provide space for relationships to blossom within the larger community, and these relationships happen in small groups that are intimate and personal.
The disciples had time for a large group celebration and small and intimate groups of nurturing and disciple-making communities (Acts 2:46). We too can follow the same strategy as the Holy Spirit used to advance His kingdom through the ministry of the Apostles and the Ancient Church. It is at this point that I would like to introduce “A Small Congregation with a Big Heart.”
Peace Lutheran Church of Garland was and still is a conservative and traditional congregation. It has seen its glory days in numbers. It was a congregation in Dallas suburbia. A typical middle-class congregation and had promising days ahead of it, but things changed around the neighborhood. Garland is no longer a suburban community—it has become part of the first-ring urban communities with all the diversity, poverty, and wealth combined.
The community around Peace is now Hispanic, people of African background and Caucasian. Peace, a congregation of Caucasian and middle-class members, has become an island congregation surrounded by a diversity that the founders of the congregation may not have imagined when it started in the middle of the 20th century. Precipitous membership decline resulted in financial stress that made Peace one of the congregation that was not able to call a full-time pastor.
The congregation considered closing a few years ago, but not so fast. It was time to begin to imagine the way ministry can be in Garland and not to go back and reflect on what it used to be. The Lord blessed Peace with the diversity of African American, Hispanic, and Pakistani communities. Now, this multi-congregational congregation is growing with African immigrants. I could say a lot more about the Peace Lutheran Church of the 21st century, but for the sake of brevity, Peace is now a “Small Congregation with a Big Heart.”
The Texas District is investing in the formation of the multi-congregational congregation; Pastor Richard Kurth, a retired pastor is serving as the senior pastor to lead in this revitalization effort. During the COVID-19 season, Pastor Kurth has gone to the homes of every member of Peace through his U-tube service and weekly snail mail letters, and the faithful have stepped up to the plate. Tithes and offerings grew by 30 percent. God has opened the heart of Peace members to see the mission field through His eyes, and from the heart of God and through their hearts, the Gospel will change the lives of many. The ministry of Word and Sacraments will continue into the next generation. Praise the Lord!
By Rev. Dr. Yohannes Mengsteab
Mission & Ministry Facilitator, Area B