What Are You Reading and Why?

Small Churches

William Adamson, Adam Enterprises, 1993

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

So it’s a book about Canadian small churches.  But the sociological and cultural focus of small churches is not particularly different depending on which side of latitude and longitude we probe.  Adamson’s treatment of small churches examines the United Church of Canada, Canadian Catholic churches the Anglican Church of Canada (Episcopalian), Lutheran churches I Canada, Presbyterian and Baptist churches in Canada.  (a few comparative figures for congregational size provides size comparisons for Canadian and American congregations.  P 28, p 224f18) 

Adamson concentrates on examination of what small congregations can offer, rather than on statistical data.  much of this represents the application of pastoral care, e.g., aspects of small congregations (250 or fewer members) is the care and support of each other, grounding each other in the faith and traditions of the church, mutual ministry, ministry to the surrounding community, a lean, simple and efficient organization, formation of clergy, a sense of stability and strength.  Small congregations may also have weaknesses:  temptation to be exclusive, to monopolize power, to be reserved, to neglect simplicity, to ignore certain crises.  ‘The primary difference is that big churches offer programs in which to participate whereas small churches offer a place in which to belong (p 42). 

Adamson lists concerns faced by small congregations (faced by larger ones, too).  He also outlines the need for ecumenical work, for shared ministry.  This is given as a kind of tag-along, and fails  to see the need for a reordering of the Constantinian mindset, emergent theology is not given vital perspective.  Adamson’s book is an attempt to fix things as they were, rather than to create new paradigms.  A book worth studying but one that needs to more clearly point to the future.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.