Academic Programs 

Effective Small Churches in the 21st Century

On-Line Offering

The majority of churches in America are small. This course is an opportunity to explore the dynamic of small churches and the mechanisms that can make them effective. Taught by the author of the 70s classic on this subject, this course will introduce students to the latest research in the area. It is especially helpful to pastors and members of small churches. 

For lay and clergy leaders, this course will identify resources, develop strategies, and practice essential skills for small church ministries.  Congregations learn sometimes by opportunity and sometimes by threats, by hard work and taking risks, by practical experience and spiritual inspiration, by biblical models and visionary leadership.  Using their congregational experiences as case studies, students will examine how their unique qualities can be mobilized to encourage local leaders, strengthen commitments, organize resources, and focus their energies to experience to meet new challenges. 

As an on-line course, the required reading will be a single book, Effective Small Churches in  the 21st Century (Abingdon, 2003), with brief additional assignments each session.  In addition students will be expected to explore on-line resources and the published bibliography and report on helpful materials they find.  Further, the primary materials of the course will be the experiences of students as expressed in exercises, responses, and dialogue. To make the most of this course, students will be expected to engage as fully as possible with the experiences they bring, the research they explore, and the conversation they provoke. 

Meeting Day, Time and Dates:  13 week course taught Online
Carl Dudley
Faculty Emeritus in Church and Community

Contact Information:
(860) 509-9500 

Course Syllabus

Course Requirements

Participation Procedure 

Like the book  Effective Small Churches in  the 21st Century, this course is divided into an introduction and three areas of Caring, Belonging, Sharing.  Some work is to be completed weekly and some in each of the three sections, plus the final paper. 

1. Procedure each week for exercises and responses:

a. In 10 of the 13 weeks the instructor will post instructions for exercises on Tuesday

b. Students will post their exercise papers with their partners by Friday.

c. Students must respond (at least once) to their partners’ exercise by Sunday.

d. The instructor will make general comments on all papers on Tuesday, and may also comment on any paper in email dialogue directly with the student. 

e. Since our primary concern is to learn in dialogue with others, missing exercises hurt the partners and the class.  If you fall behind, catch up the following week. In the end, students are allowed two missing exercises without grade penalty.

f. All students will be able to see all exercises and responses, and you are invited but not expected to comment directly to students in other partnerships.  

g. Keep exercises and responses brief and focused:

All exercises – no more than two pages, 500 words

All responses – no more that one page, 250 words


2. Procedure for dialogue in each of three areas

 In addition to focused weekly exercises and responses, students are expected to contribute at least one page of conversation on the dialogue page in each of the three areas.  This conversation should include your observations, questions, new resources, frustrations, and hopes that reflect experience in your ministry.  Your contributions can be single sentences or longer paragraphs that total no less than a page (250 words) in each area.  You can initiate new conversations, or respond to comments by others.  You are expected to be respectful and encouraging to others, as we explore these areas and learn together. 


3.  The final paper should summarize your primary discoveries in defining your issues of ministry and your next steps based on the class content, including readings, exercises, responses, and dialogue. You can quote your own materials and comments by others, by citation.  It should be about 10 pages (2,500 words) and sent directly to the instructor on line.  Paper is due December 12, 2003. 

Bibliography of hard copy and on-line materials will be posted as a class resource.  Students are encouraged to explore these resources and use them freely during our exchanges. 

Grades for credit will be based 1/3 on your weekly exercises, 1/3 on your responses and dialogue with others, and 1/3 on your final paper. 


Course Syllabus of themes and exercises

Personal Introduction: Students will give name, your denomination, your gender and age, community name, ministry name, your denomination and status (lay or clergy) and tenure in this location.

September 9

1. Focus-  Defining your small church ministry

Exercise 1: Describe your congregation

Identify five positive features

Identify three problems


September 16

2. Focus – primary group, single cell, social capital 

Exercise 2 -- sanctuary seating / or list the characters and their functions

September 23

3. Focus – Membership growth, Adoption, Kindred Spirits

Exercise 3 – patterns of joining, sources, extended networks 

September 30  

4.  Focus –  Pastor as professional  and  “Lover”

Exercise 4 – List pastor’s five expectations and satisfactions

Make a similar list of members (and extended family) 

October 7

5.  Focus – Review of Caring

Conversations on materials raised on dialogue board 



October 14

6. Focus – Sense of time in Small Church

Exercise 5 -- Time line

October 21

7. Focus – Sense of place in Small Church

Exercise 6– “silent history” in spaces and artifacts

October 28

8.  Focus – Shaping the future by defining the past

Exercise 7 – ritual of weekly/ monthly/ annual events

November 4

9.  Focus – Review of Belonging

Conversations on materials raised on dialogue board 



November 11

10.  Focus – Clarity of purpose, function of conflict

            Exercise 8 – Defining purpose and using conflict

November 18

11.  Focus – Community witness, ministry and beyond

            Exercise 9– claiming your style, funding your program

[November 25 Thanksgiving week]

December 2

12. Focus – Old partners and new sources for ministry

            Exercise 10 – Identifying resources, expanding options

December 9

13.   Focus – Review of Course

Conversations on materials raised on dialogue board 

December 12 

semester ends, papers due  Please request extensions if needed. 


Hartford Seminary  77 Sherman Street  Hartford, CT  06105   860-509-9500