Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Smaller congregations mean collaboration, even across denominations, in eastern Dakotas

Rev. Tim Koch has two churches.
Shrinking congregations in some rural communities are looking more like pioneer days, when circuit-riding preachers traveled from one church to another. A series of stories from Dakotafire, a cooperative of rural newspapers in the eastern Dakotas, described how some churches are sharing pastors. In a package of three articles, area reporters examined how congregations and their leadership are adapting to changing times.

As small congregations increasingly struggle to support a full-time pastor's salary and benefits, sharing is become more common. The increasing costs of seminary debt and health benefits have had a grim impact on small congregations. According to one of the Dakotafire articles, it takes roughly 90 to 100 people to support the estimated expense of $70,000 for a seminary-trained pastor. For many churches, that's is too much.

Collaboration -- sometimes across denominations -- has helped some churches survive. Another article told the story of  Rev. Tim Blackman, a Baptist minister who became licensed by the United Church of Christ so he could pastor two small churches in Gackle: Grace Baptist and the Gackle United Church of Christ. In another case, three United Methodist churches about 22 miles apart share the services of Rev. Nancy Manning, and all three have had to alter their service times. This intercity and interdenominational cooperation could be a trend in areas with declining population.

“It’s really good to put our heads together with our full ecumenical partners, those that we have a relationship with where we can share pastors back and forth,” Rev. Keith Zeh, a regional mission director for in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, told Dakotafire. “Sometimes when we take a look outside our own denomination, and vice versa, that’s also very helpful.” (Read more)

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