Small Church Paradigms

Small Church Paradigms

By Dr. Glenn Daman


A paradigm describes the framework by which something is perceived or understood. It is a pattern that is followed, serving to govern what the church does, why it does it, and the purpose for it. Every church has a paradigm by which it understands its ministry, develop its programs and expresses its faith. This paradigm influences the church's attitudes and responses to its leaders. It molds its perspective of ministry. It governs its decision making process. Understanding and leading the small church involves serving within the context of its paradigm and carefully changing those issues which conflict and hinder the ministry. To understand and develop biblically governed and culturally sensitive paradigms we need to understand the factors that influence the formation of the congregations paradigms, the types of paradigms that exist and then ways to alter them.


Factors Affecting Paradigm Formation


Paradigms do not just form, they exist because of several influences that had altered and affected the way the congregation interprets reality. To understand the paradigm we must look at these issues.


1. Theology. The theological perspective of the congregation and community affect how it perceives the ministry, worship and inter-congregational relationships. It affects the curriculum it chooses. It affects how it perceives the community outside the church walls. Often, when the church over-emphasizes certain points of theology it impacts the nature of the ministry. For example, when the church becomes overbalanced with a view of the corruptness of our society it tends to withdraw rather than seek to engage our culture with the implications of the gospel. How a church understands the spiritual gifts will influence its worship as well as its programs. Churches that emphasize the charismatic theology may focus more upon the emotional nature of worship, whereas churches that reject the charismatic movement may structure a intellectual and academic style of worship.


2. History. Past events in the church define and formulate the present perspective of the congregation. If the church has had a split in the past, or if they have had a significant problem with a pastor it influences the paradigm people have regarding leadership and authority. When a church encounters strong resistence from organizations or governmental agencies, it will develop views and attitudes regarding the secular world that can affect its evangelistic altitudes. History plays an important role in the paradigms by which people understand the nature and ministry of the church. Traditions governing the fellowship express these perspectives. To understand the paradigm one must also understand the history.


3. Culture. A church located in a conservative area will have a different perspective than its counterpart located in a progressive area. It will be less involved in social and environmental issues, it will interprets scriptural teachings regarding lifestyle differently. It will have a different understanding of appropriate dress to the worship service. Culture is more than how we understand our community, it involves the integration of our lifestyle with our theology, often affecting the formation of the congregation's theology.


4. Age of people. Much has been written about the various characteristics and distinctives of the babyboomers, the busters, and the other age groups. When a particular age group exercises the most sway over the congregation then it will have a significant impact upon the perspective of the people. If those who make the decisions of the church are senior citizens then it will influence the church from its version it uses from the pulpit to the style of songs used in the worship service. Churches that attract the baby-boomers may incorporate drums, guitars and synthesizers into the service, while the baby-busters and X generation will want more visual forms within the service.


5. Location. The location of the church and the make-up of the community alters people's view of the ministry. A church located in rural Montana will have a vastly different perspective than a church located in a suburban area of an metropolitan area located on the east coast. The independent mind set that characterizes the northwest will cause the congregation to view the meaning of fellowship and mutual involvement of the congregation different from a church located in the bible-belt.


6. Values. Values are the beliefs and shared expectations that people have regarding the attitudes, actions and motivations of people. These values undergird the activity of the church and dictate what the church does and why it does it. Congregational values express biblical norms, cultural expectations and personal views. They influence the paradigms of the congregation in that they form the basis and foundation for the perspective of the congregation and the way the people view ministry.


Family Paradigms within the Small Church


The overarching focus of the small church is upon family. Just as a family shares its joys and struggles with mutual inter-relatedness, so also the congregation is joined together in a bond that extends beyond age or social boundaries. The small church operates under the assumption that it is a family and people are to treat one another as a family. However, just as there are different types of families, so also there are different types of church families.


1. The Mom and Pop Family Model. The nuclear family remains a traditional family where the husband, wife and children follow traditional roles. Extended family are important because they have the same bloodline. They look to the pastor to provide biblical instruction and pastoral care but the direction is set by the congregation. Instead of the people looking to the pastor to provide key leadership, they look to a tribal chief. This individual (or individuals) are a matriarch or patriarch who are looked up to by the whole congregation for his or her wisdom, spiritual insight and character. Often they have considerable influence not only because of their position within the church, but because of their position within the dominate family. If they oppose any idea, it is quickly rejected by the whole congregation. With this paradigm, tradition plays an important role because it ties the present congregation to the past family members who have built the church. Worship and music are traditional with the church reluctant to adapt the use of drums and guitars. Because of the close ties to family members, the church is often hard to get into. To become a part of the family a new person needs to be "adopted" which takes time in order for people to build up the trust and personal relationships. Until that point, new people may feel on the outside. On the other hand, once a person is "adopted" it is hard for them to leave the church since the people will aggressively act to keep them in the fellowship. If they miss several Sundays, they will be missed and other members will call to find out why they have not attended.


2. The Blended family.


Because the blended family has different people from different backgrounds coming together to form another family, it does not demonstrate the same characteristics as the nuclear family. Step siblings do not share the same values and traits because the backgrounds are different. As a result different tensions arise as the two groups form a new family. IN the church setting, the blended church is one that is not dominated by one family. Instead, people from different backgrounds and traditions are brought together to form a church family. While culturally homogeneous, they are not as traditionally driven as the nuclear church. Instead, tradition plays less an important role. While some traditions play a crucial role within the church, these traditions are less pronounced. The blended church is more open to change, but not anything that pushes the edges of acceptability. Programs remain traditional, although new forms and ideas may be introduced and accepted. The worship service will be somewhat traditional, although contemporary forms may be added as long as it does not replace the older forms. While people will be open for change, they will still be reluctant to change as the still have some ties to the past. The pastor of the church will have more influence in setting the direction of the church, although the church still will be governed by congregational vote. He will be looked upon to be an instructor and advisor of the various ministries and will be expected to provide some oversight. Those in position of leadership are chosen because of their past involvement within the church and the length of attendance. While new people may gain leadership positions, it will only be after they have proven themselves over time. Decisions will be made by the whole congregation at the various meetings. The church will be more open to new members but there is still some restrictions to how quickly people will be placed in positions of leadership. Because the church is not dominated by bloodlines the pastor and board will have more influence and authority, especially after the pastor has remained in the church for a number of years and built trust with the people.


The Cosmopolitan Family


This paradigm stands at the opposite end of the ministry spectrum from the traditional family church. While the traditional family remains steadfastly bound to past traditions, the cosmopolitan church is always seeking to push the edges. This church is often located in suburban or urban areas that have a high percentage of baby boomers. It often will be a new church with a higher turnover rate within the congregation, thus lacking any ties to previous generations and their traditions. The pastor is called upon to be the visionary and program developer with the board. Positions of leadership are assigned to those who have new ideas and the ability to carry them out so that the focus of the whole congregation is upon the future rather than the past. Decisions are made by a representative few, although they still require ratification by the whole congregation. The worship style will be more contemporary with the inclusion of guitars, drums, and upbeat music. Where these instruments are not available, tapes and CD will be incorporated. The church will be open for new people and will readily accept them into membership and assign them positions of leadership within the congregation. Within the programs themselves, the stress will be more upon quality of service than the other styles which tend to focus upon relationships. The danger confronting the cosmopolitan church is that they can become so oriented towards activities, they loose sight of their calling to develop characters. The fact that the church has a number of programs developed can be mistaken for marks of true spirituality. The task of the leadership is to assure that the congregation maintains its biblical focus and priorities even as they conduct their ministry.


The Ethnic Family


In contrast to the other three which are influenced by their location and the sociological and cultural mind set which make up the church, the ethnic church is influenced by the ethnic background of the congregation and community. This may be a Mexican church in a migrant area or a church in the North Dakota situated in a community settled and still influenced by polish immigrants. What defines the leadership and approach to ministry is the ethnic background of the people. The pastor, while not having the same ethnic background, will be evaluated by his respect for and agreement with the ethnic traditions of the people. Those who are accepted into membership and placed in position of leadership must often first demonstrate their adherence to the customs of the community. The ethnic church will focus its evangelistic efforts in reaching the people who share the same ethnic background. Ministering within the small church involves understanding the factors influencing the thinking and perspective of the people. Each model has its strengths and weaknesses and ultimately each church will have characteristics that are as distinct as a person's fingerprint. By deciphering these broad paradigms, the pastor and leadership can cultivate and challenge the people to move beyond their paradigms to build a biblical perspective that governs all it does.

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