GA NEWS: Pastor advocates a “speedboat” ministry

SAN JOSE, June 23, 2008 ˜ Because they are able to adapt and change quickly, small churches are frequently better able to respond to community needs, an innovative small church pastor told 100 people attending the Small Church Luncheon at the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) here June 23.

“There are lots of mega-churches here in California,” said the Rev. Steve Whitney, pastor of Trinity Church in nearby West Sacramento, “and for them changing is like steering an ocean liner — a long, slow process.”

But small churches, he said, “are like speedboats, able to change fast and adapt quickly.” And in transitional communities like his, Whitney added, “speedboat ministry is much closer to the biblical model of immediately responding to immediate needs of individuals.”

Taking the gospel “to the ends of the earth” can be a daunting challenge for small churches — defined as having weekly worship attendance of 100 or less — Whitney said.

“But Acts 2 talks of a small community of believers experiencing the rush of the Holy Spirit and then extraordinary power. Our God is not a God of numbers but of individualized care of God’s children and we‚re very good at that,” he said.

Trinity Church, a congregation forced into major transition when a freeway rerouted traffic that used to flow through the community, has in the last several years reached out into its rapidly changing neighborhood with programs for children, transients and local public schools. The result has been renewed vitality and growth.

“Our ministry is a person-by-person, life-by-life, speedboat ministry‚ powered by the Holy Spirit,” Whitney said. “Obviously this is a God thing — when we open up to God, the Holy Spirit shows up and amazing things happen,” he said.

Stories of similar small church transformation are available on the Web site of the Small Church and Community Office of the General Assembly Council, said luncheon host Phil Tom, who staffs that office along with Eva Slayton.

Models for small church ministry in various contexts have been gathered in a resource entitled „Spiritual Vitality Through Cooperative Ministry,” edited by former national staff member Diana Stephen. That resource is available online at Presbyterian Marketplace. A resource packet for congregations wishing to celebrate Small Church Ministry Sunday on July 13 is available on the Small Church and Community Ministry Web site.