I visited our Branch congregation in Socorro yesterday. I preached"live" at the service their lay worship leader conducted, a member of the Albuquerque congregation provided music, substituting for their regular musician, our DRE told the children's story and then took the group of pre-schoolers off to draw while she gave their child-care provider some tips and materials for future classes. There were about 30 people there. Later that evening, I met with their core leaders and we talked about starting a steering committee, about the Covenant Group and the meditation class they are going to start in the new year, and about the details of their first "solo" service, which will be a Christmas concert gift to their small community. They are expecting about 100 people to pack the sanctuary of the little Episcopal church they meet in.
We also talked about tweaking their regular order of service so that the children will leave a bit earlier in the service. They are looking into getting a stretch of highway to pick up and are wondering how to be more involved with the town's food bank. They have two college students attending and one professor from the State University in the town and they have established a student group on campus. We talked about how they might organize any needed pastoral care, when to call for assistance, and a variety of other things. I brought home a pledge card, a new member's sign-up sheet, and a request by an elderly woman to know how to put the church in her will. (also an envelope with their offering coins, bills, and checks...we're having difficulty getting a local bank account set up for them.)
The core group in Socorro started meeting six months ago and they began weekly worship two months ago. They are a thriving, attractive congregation. They are enjoying each other's company. More than one person has said that this project has hugely enriched their life in their small town. It's been a great project for the whole church; we're all getting a kick out of being on a cutting edge of a new way to organize new congregations.
I've been a part of starting two other congregations, one in a similarly small town in South Carolina and one in the western suburbs of Albuquerque. The first one failed after its first year. The second has been 'on its own' for a decade now and is settling its second minister, but they have not been able to take advantage of the housing boom around them and remain quite small. I felt about both groups that they were fighting nearly impossible odds; they were abandoned babies left to fend for themselves way too early in a hard world. Years ago I promised myself that I'd never do that again.
Our Socorro branch, age 2 months, has access to a good sermon every week, an RE library, advice, training for worship and covenant group leaders, pastoral care, and moral support. It's such a pleasure to watch them take all that and thrive!