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Christian Education in the Small Membership Church

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6


Creativity, innovation, inclusivity, improvisation, passion, dedication. These are all building blocks of Christian education within a small membership church. Making up for limited resources such as budget, space, staffing, not to mention only a handful of students on any given Sunday, may seem like an insurmountable challenge, especially if we compare ourselves to larger parishes with full wings dedicated to Christian education, annual Vacation Church Schools, weekly SOYO events, etc. In a book designed for those of us working and serving in the context of a small membership church entitled Christian Education in the Small Membership Church, author and Emeritus Professor of Christian Education at Eden Theological Seminary Karen B. Tye presents her insight on “the creative possibilities that reside in the small membership church for doing the vital work of education and formation, of equipping the saints for ministry.” (p. ix, Introduction)

Through a series of posts corresponding with the six chapters of this book, we will explore and discuss Tye's instructions on how to build a healthy Christian education ministry, with opportunity to successfully grow as your parish grows. Although not written from an Orthodox Christian perspective, the book offers rich insight to apply to Church School Directors' efforts in growing Christian education within your own parishes. Posts will be available on the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education webpage dedicated to Church School Directors: and on the Orthodox Christian Church School Directors Facebook page.

Over the course of six chapters, Tye describes how a small membership church is different (in a good way!); a small membership church is beautiful; a small membership church offers opportunities unavailable in a larger parish. Every small membership church is unique unto itself, even when compared to other small membership churches. There is a process to determine the individual Christian education model that is right for your parish, and Tye provides a framework for approaching this process. “Rather than seeking the solution or the program, we need to commit ourselves to exploring the particularity of our setting and what that means for the deliberate, intentional, and faithful work of formation on our community of faith. The church of Jesus Christ, no matter what its size, deserves our best efforts.” (p. x, Introduction)

Having myself grown up in small membership churches, not experiencing a large membership church until college, Tye’s observations and explanations about the small membership church reached to my core. Many a time, many a page, did I stop reading to reflect upon a personal memory that connected with her words. I was part of a church that had no budget for a Nativity play and eight of the ten participants within the cast were related, with my sister as the director. I was part of a church that held Bible Trivia night in the sanctuary because the fellowship hall was in one of many various stages of completion. I was part of a church with no-frills operations, yet to the credit of a few dedicated members, there was an emphasis on Christian education for youth and adults, even though we had to follow a nontraditional model to accommodate our limitations. And because of the creativity, innovation, inclusivity, improvisation, passion, and dedication of these volunteers, the Christian education program thrived and eventually grew. It is possible. And if it is already going strong within your parish, there are ways to further enhance your programs without compromising on the distinct identifying qualities of Christian education within the small membership church. In this book, the author will help us “think together about the essential qualities and consider the basic aspects of this process we call education, especially as it pertains to the small church setting. We will highlight some of the basics, including whom we educate, where and when we educate, and the resources we need.” (p. x, Introduction)

The beauty of considering Christian education within a small membership church is that we are reminded how Christ focused on the small, the simple, the humble when He was teaching. Reflect upon that as you work to establish a Christian education program or improve upon an existing program. Launching a Christian education program is filled with joy and challenges. Thankfully, we are not alone as we prepare. We should always remember Jesus’ promise that wherever two or three are gathered in His name, He will be with us (Matt 18:20). We must take hope and strength from this promise and move forward with purpose and assurance! “Our small size is to be celebrated and cherished for the gifts it brings. We aren’t just a little church, or we don’t just have forty in worship on Sunday. We are a cell in the Body of Christ and can faithfully educate our members to do and live as God would have us. Small is beautiful! Thanks be to God!” (p. 84)

The Antiochian Department of Christian Education (AODCE) invites you to connect with directors throughout the Orthodox Christian community and access resources for Church School staff through a Facebook page dedicated to Church School Directors. Find us on Facebook by searching for Orthodox Christian Church School Directors. This page is supported by the AODCE and is updated regularly to reflect relevant topics of discussion such as curriculum, following the Liturgical year, challenges and the corresponding solutions to issues faced by directors, building your program, and articles of interest. Join the Facebook group and jump into the conversation so that the network of directors can be strengthened and encouraged through dialogue, surveys, and interviews. Your input is greatly valued and welcomed! Also, to receive official updates and communications from AODCE, all Antiochian Orthodox Church School Directors are requested to join the listserv by sending names of the director and parish to