Lay Pastor/Small Membership Church Project

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Sat, 08/01/1992
End Date: 
Sat, 05/31/1997

United Methodist Church (UMC) of the Indiana Area directed the “The Lay Pastor/Small Membership Church Project” that developed the Partnership in Ministry Program (PIM), a plan implemented by the North and South Conferences of the Indiana UMC. PIM was designed to: (1) recruit, train, deploy, supervise and support lay pastors in selected small churches, (2) test a new paradigm of ministry partnership between the pastor and local church, and (3) provide consultation for local churches regarding future pastoral leadership. Sixty-seven percent of the churches (913 of 1344 churches) in the Indiana Area of the UMC had an average attendance below 100 members in worship during the time of the study. The PIM program was created to help small membership churches remain open and effectively engaged in vital Christian ministry under the leadership of lay pastors. <p> The program instituted two levels of lay pastor training: the Alternative License to Preach School, conducted by the North and South Indiana Conferences, and the Indiana Area Extension Course of Study, an extension of the Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary Course of Study in Evanston, Illinois. Recruitment, deployment, supervision and support of lay pastors rested in the hands of District Superintendents; program directors assisted in some of these tasks, and District Superintendents assigned Supervising Pastors and Counseling Elders to supply mentoring services and support for lay pastors in their work. <p> The Indiana University Center for Survey Research provided program evaluation by facilitating two focus groups and conducting surveys with pastors and churches involved in the program. Analysis of the information indicated that a successful lay ministry program depended on the characteristics of the church community and on the individual qualities of the lay minister. Sources of potential problems needing response centered on issues of role competition and conflict, continued support from pastoral supervisors and others, and the loss of lay pastors to larger churches due to the program’s success. <p> The project transferred program responsibility at the close of the grant period to a Board of Indiana Local Pastors’ Schools. Issues the program continued to face concerned helping bi-vocational pastors balance time between family, church and their full-time job; encouraging pastors to continue their ministry training; and dealing with the length of time needed to complete the course of study, projected to take a total of ten to twelve years.