Resourcing Small Churches for 20 Years
Project Reconnect has been resourcing small churches for 20 years, providing sermon videos, recorded music, and discussion questions. This project “assists congregations to develop and maintain a vibrant witness to Christ in their communities,” by supplying DVDs and online resources.
Rev. Tom Stuart, a founder and leader of Project Reconnect, told Insights why this project still matters.
He recounted a conversation with a congregation member from the mid-Lachlan Mission Area who asked if their congregation would have to be closed down due to small numbers and the lack of a regular minister. He responded, “while you continue to worship, you’re still a church.”
This realisation prompted Rev. Tom Stuart to begin creating resources for these congregations so that they could continue worshipping and shortly after, Project Reconnect was born.
Founded in 2002 to support nine congregations in the mid-Lachlan Mission Area, Project Reconnect is now based in the Hunter Presbytery, but its contributors hail from all over the Eastern seaboard, from Orange to the Blue Mountains to Parkes.
Rather than recording another congregation’s worship service for smaller churches to watch, the founders of Project Reconnect developed a more participatory format, which continues to this day.
Using MediaCom’s Words for Worship resource, the Project Reconnect team record video sermons from lay and ordained preachers based on lectionary readings, as well as songs performed by bands from different congregations, and pair these with discussion questions. Churches can use different elements of these resources as they see fit, to fill gaps when ministers or musicians are away, or as their regular worship practice.
Rev. Tom Stuart emphasised the importance of discussion questions as a model for helping small congregations explore faith on a deeper, more personal level. These questions encourage those gathered to reflect on the aspects of a sermon that stood out to them, to tell stories that resonate with the themes of the message, to bring those themes into the context of their own community, and to look for them in the broader world.
This discussion format also allows members of small churches to offer honest opinions on the presented sermons without fear of offending the preacher, and encourages those who do not usually speak up to find their voice.
Rather than limiting conversations to the everyday, congregations who use these discussion questions engage with theological topics together. Rev. Tom Stuart told Insights that one parishioner jokingly complained that now, instead of spending two hours at church on a Sunday, they often spend four hours in deep discussion.
Rev. Tom Stuart described the broad theological spectrum of Project Reconnect resources, with the aim to reflect the diversity of beliefs across the Uniting Church. Less interested in divisions between “progressive” and “conservative” parts of the church, this approach gives Project Reconnect a uniquely “Uniting Church character.”
Rev. Tom Stuart told Insights that “[what] keeps us all going is the incredible feedback.” Though Project Reconnect is run by volunteers, they are motivated by the knowledge that many of the churches to whom they provide resources would have closed if not for their support.
When asked what hopes he holds for Project Reconnect’s future, Rev. Tom Stuart said, “[that] we continue to provide resources to maintain or encourage vitality in small congregations so that they can do as much as they are able in terms of creating worship.” With a recent move toward online platforms, Rev. Tom Stuart told Insights that this opens up opportunities for different kinds of videos beyond only following the lectionary.
Free online resources are available on the Project Reconnect website, and they are always looking for volunteers to donate their time and gifts to the making of these videos.
Project Reconnect will celebrate their 20th anniversary in 2022.
Gabrielle Cadenhead is Insights’ intern
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