In Praise of Scrappy Congregations

Dear Ones:

A Lutheran pastor recently shared her preferred name for small ministry settings: Scrappy Congregations. 


Her reasoning for the name change? “Small” merely captures a number—usually, the number of bottoms in pews for an hour on Sunday mornings. “Small” doesn’t pretend to describe a congregation’s health, hope, passion, or faith-full kingdom building. “Small” also invites comparison to bigger numbers—more bottoms in more pews. And the ease of this comparison usually leaves “small” sounding undesirable. Or inefficient. Or failing. 

“Scrappy,” on the other hand, provides a richer description. It suggests few resources used creatively. Adaptively and unexpectedly. It calls up a picture of nimbleness and determination. A “scrappy” organization might not have everything it needs, ideally. It might not follow the established pattern for success. But it will make a way anyway. 

Look up the definition of scrappy in the Urban Dictionary: “seemingly small and unthreatening, but shockingly able to . . .” You get the point.

And here’s the really good news. Scrappy is also a great description of how divine love works. Our salvation history is the repetition of God making a way anyway. Over and over again. God’s work is creative, adaptive, unexpected. Sometimes in big, easy-to-count ways. Often in really small, one-at-a-time ways. Scrappy.

Pentecost is a celebration of scrappiness! In Acts, the Church begins its mission with an unlikely event, unexpecting folks, and less-than-ideal ideal resources. What’s happening? Are they drunk?  The scrappy point was that ministry should not wait for perfect plans, ideal stuff, and expert leadership. The Church’s work is always about making a way anyway. For each bunch of folks. Right where they are. In whatever language they speak. The good news belongs in every community. Not just the ones big enough or ready enough.

God has never been limited by our adjectives—”small,” “large,” “well-resourced,” “fully-credentialed.” We shouldn’t be either. It may be time to quit chasing ministry by a number. And start celebrating each way the Spirit unleashes us to work creatively, adaptively, unexpectedly.

Practice scrappy divine love right where you are. 

Thanks for your ministries,