Helping Smaller Churches

The Church sometimes uses a hub and spoke model of ministry. In it a central congregation serves as the hub of a wheel with spokes radiating outwards in all directions.

Zion Lutheran Church, Wausau

Zion Lutheran Church in Wausau began helping smaller congregations a few years back. Wausau is a big city for North-Central Wisconsin. Zion is also located a manageable driving distance to a handful of smaller congregations. A couple of years ago one congregation reached out to us for pastoral support and services. At the time Zion had three pastors and the smaller church was struggling to find pulpit supply. After much prayer, the meeting of the councils, congregational meetings, and a mutually agreed upon contract we started to share our pastoral services, support, and love with more brothers and sisters in Christ.

Zion serves as the larger (hub) church. The other church is a smaller (spoke) church located about 15 miles east. Each church retains its own autonomy (councils, calendars, actives, etc.). And each church shares in the pastoral leadership and support of 2 full-time pastors and 1 part-time, retired pastor. Between the two churches, every single worship service is led by an ordained pastor. Shut-ins are visited. Sunday schools run unabated. Word and Sacrament are freely shared.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained in order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.

Titus 1:5

Larger, hub-like churches and rural, spoke-like churches may want to consider doing something like this too. If so, Zion has some practical advice for you.

For the hub church and pastoral staff:

  1. Pastors are to be the harvesters out among the wheat fields! As a pastor of a hub church, yes, you are primarily called to (and paid by) this congregation. However, don’t let that limit the scope of how you can serve Christ’s Church more broadly. There are “other sheep” out there.
  2. Church councils care for the well being of their own church, and also the well-being of their pastor. Thanks be to God! But remember, Christ’s Church is bigger than your own slice of the kingdom. We must care for the “least of these, my brothers” who are without adequate pastoral support. What will the Lord say to us if we neglect them at such a time as this?
  3. You are a congregation with resources – thanks be to God! Those resources can be used in supporting smaller, rural congregations with leadership – pastoral, musical, educational, or otherwise.
  4. This will make pastors a bit busier, but it is good to be busy for the sake of the Kingdom of God! Of course, one must weigh the demands of two (or more) congregations appropriately. Pastors can’t be everywhere and do everything. This means the hub church will be willing to receive a little less attention from their pastor(s) because they are sharing it with another church.
  5. It will be important for the membership of the hub church to know what their pastor(s) are doing at the spoke church. They are invested too and need to be kept in the loop.

For the spoke church:

  1. Help is not on the way. Pastoral shortages, baby-boomer retirements, and a myriad of other issues have brought us to where we are today. Grieve it and move on. This is one model (hub and spoke) which might be able to make things work given the current circumstances.
  2. God loves your church, no matter what size. You exist to glorify God where you are at. God also loves bigger churches too. They can help you. Never be ashamed to ask for help from your brothers and sisters in Christ.
  3. Having pastoral support is essential for keeping vitality in a church. Churches can flounder without a shepherd or waiting for one. If you are a rural church, you know how long it takes to get a pastor and chances are, depending on your denominational affiliation, you are low on the priority list. Be proactive – find a larger congregation in your vicinity that might be willing to share their pastor. You never know unless you ask!
  4. If you do connect with a bigger church, know that the primary loyalty of the pastor will be to the congregation they are called to. Don’t expect this pastor to now devote 40 hours a week to your congregation. An agreed upon contract will make clear what you can and cannot expect from a pastor or a pastoral team.
  5. Be willing to be flexible to make things work. If you want a pastor to preach and preside at the Supper, changing the time you worship, even if you’ve worshiped at that time for the past 50 years, might be necessary.
  6. You have resources too! Partnering with a larger church does not now mean their pastor is cheap labor. Be as heavily invested in this partnership as possible. Be generous in how you compensate the larger church in their pastoral support of your congregation. You may not be able to compensate a full-time, benefits included pastor, but you just might enable the larger church to do that very thing. Everyone wins!
  7. Remember what is central for the Church: Receiving Jesus Christ and the gifts He gives in Word and Sacrament. Your worship life will have a renewed sense of importance because of this partnership. Worship will be the main area of concentration for the pastor who is helping you out.

Remember, we are not entering uncharted territory. Nor are we entering into unprecedented times. The Church has weathered far worse challenges than what we face today. This doesn’t make light of the current struggles but puts it into perspective. It is God’s will that His Church grow and flourish. May this good and gracious will of God be done among us as we look at newer (or older!) models of making ministry happen.

Resources for Congregations – Sermons, Clergy Connect, and Congregations in Transition

Lutheran CORE wants to be of support and assistance to orthodox, confessional congregations in every way that we can.  Three of the ways in which we are seeking to do that are through a catalog of sermon resources, Clergy Connect, and Congregations in Transition.

I have spoken with lay leaders of congregations that are either too small or too remote to be able to find and call a pastor.  Other congregations are in the process of calling a pastor, and at this point do not have an interim.  Some of these congregations have a pastor who is available to come, preach, and preside at communion once or twice a month.  Many times it is a retired pastor, or a chaplain in a nearby care facility, who is able to help out.  I have spoken with some pastors who travel a great distance in order to provide care for the people of God.  Because of the distance, some of these pastors will preach and lead worship one Sunday a month, and then write and send sermons which a lay leader in the congregation can deliver on the other Sundays of the month.  There are many different kinds of situations, and many different kinds of arrangements that have been made.  We want to thank all of the lay leaders of congregations who “step up to the plate” and all the pastors, including retired pastors, who help meet the need.

We are also very grateful to Cathy Ammlung, NALC pastor and former secretary of the board of Lutheran CORE.  Cathy has a special passion and heart for smaller and/or more remote congregations and congregations that do not have a pastor.  She has begun the process of compiling a resource bank of sermons that lay leaders could use on the Sundays when their congregation does not have a pastor.  She describes her concept and vision in an article in the March issue of CORE Voice.  A link to that article can be found here.

Many thanks to all those who have already responded and sent Cathy one or more of their sermons.  If you have not already done so, please consider sending her one or more of your sermons which can be added to this resource bank.  Sermons will be organized by topic, Scripture passage, and Sunday of the church year.   Please email her your “best sermons” at

Another resource I want to lift up is Clergy Connect.  A link to this page on our website can be found here.

Many congregations have reported how difficult it is to find an orthodox, confessional, Great Commission minded pastor.   An anticipated increase in the number of retirements of pastors post-COVID, and the decrease in the number of seminary enrollees, will make and have made this situation even more severe.

We invite you to post your position on our website.  If you check out the page you will see the kind of information that other congregations have provided.  Congregational search committees are asked to submit church name, location, description of the position and the congregation, and contact information.  Vacancies can be emailed to   

Third, if you have a pastoral vacancy, please also consider our Congregations in Transition ministry initiative.  We have a group of (mostly) retired Lutheran pastors who have been trained to be transition coaches.  They are able and available to help congregations whose pastors have retired or resigned, or soon will be retiring or resigning, maintain stability and momentum in regards to the congregation’s vital ministries during the transition process.  For more information check out our Transitions page or contact

Send Me Your (Best) Sermons!

I have a soft spot in my heart for small congregations, congregations of any size in transition, and churches whose isolation and resources make it difficult to field an “emergency fill-in” pastor, much less an interim or called pastor. That’s one reason I compile hymn suggestions and write intercessory prayers, even though they are widely used by congregations of all sizes and staffing. Churches without a regular pastoral presence have enough to do without crafting prayers, selecting hymns to go with the appointed tests… or figuring out how the Word will be faithfully preached every week. That’s what I want to talk about now.

Yes, there are sermon resources online. They’re hit and miss. They may have great illustrations but lack theological “meat”. They may be unorthodox, at odds with classic Lutheran doctrine, or overly pedantic. The Board of Lutheran CORE hopes to provide a data base of solid, biblically faithful, and doctrinally orthodox sermons for congregations to download when the need arises. Maybe they’re house churches or are facing a long vacancy with few prospects for interim pastoral leadership. Don Brandt and his brilliant Congregations in Transition (CiT) initiative helps address some of the challenges such churches face. Or maybe the pastor took ill on a Saturday night and a supply preacher isn’t available. It’d be a blessing for them to have one place to search for good sermons to use: by Scripture, day in the church year, or topic.

So this is a call for pastors to help out congregations in such situations. I want your sermons! Please email them to

  Here are some basic criteria:

  1. When you submit a sermon, make a note at the beginning as to the main Scripture(s) referenced; the day in the church year/lectionary for which it is appropriate; and, if applicable, the general topic. That way we can cross reference sermons so they can be searched in several ways.
  2. Select sermons that you’d entrust to a layperson in your own congregation to preach if you couldn’t be there.
  3. No “First-person” sermons. They’re too unique to you.
  4. Similarly, be careful about mentioning situations or people that may be specific to your own congregation and difficult to modify to be of more general use. If a person’s situation, however, may be more universally shared, please change names to protect the innocent!
  5. Avoid using sermons that feature time-sensitive topics or express specific personal political beliefs. They don’t transport (or age) well.
  6. Sermons should be full manuscripts, not notes, lists, or talking points. Please check for, and correct, errors in grammar and spelling!
  7. If possible, sermons should take under 15 minutes to preach. Someone else will be using your words, style, and thoughts. That’s harder (mentally and physically), than using their own.
  8. I will edit very lightly: Grammar, spelling, factual errors, or the stray name of a parishioner (for privacy’s sake). If I think any other edits need to be made, I will ask your permission.
  9. Please don’t have your feelings hurt if a sermon doesn’t appear online. It may be a time factor and it’ll show up later. If I think a sermon is simply not suitable for use as per the criteria I’ve listed, I may ask you to either modify it or withdraw it. It does not mean I think it’s a bad sermon or you’re a bad preacher!

This is going to take some time to compile, organize, and put online. You can be selecting and submitting topical sermons immediately, as well as sermons from later in Cycle B (2nd half of Pentecost, year of Mark). But also start setting aside, editing, and submitting sermons that can be used in Cycle C (Year of Luke). I will try to give folks a heads-up when more contributions are needed. Again, please send stuff as Word documents to

Thank you!