Churches withIN Churches

Much has changed in the past months including the fact that one of us (Gary) has taken a part-time position as Visitation Pastor of a larger-than-small church.  What has NOT changed is our heart for the small church. Interestingly, the church in which we now worship and serve has begun to call its Sunday School classes "small churches"!

This recent Facebook post by a friend reminded us of our heart for small church ministry:

"Go to the nearest, smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place. That’s what I always told people. If people were leaving my congregation to go to another place of work, I’d say, “The smallest church, the closest church, and stay there for 6 months.” Sometimes it doesn’t work. Some pastors are just incompetent. And some are flat out bad. So I don’t think that’s the answer to everything, but it’s a better place to start than going to the one with all the programs, the glitz, all that stuff." -Eugene Peterson.
Then, this morning a Twitter post linking to 12 Reasons I Love My Smaller Church appeared on our feed. Simply written, it makes a strong argument for vibrant small churches - whether separate entities or churches WITHIN a church.  It includes this statistic from a 2016 Barna survey:

…the largest group of American churchgoers attends services in a more intimate context. Almost half (46%) attend a church of 100 or fewer members. More than one-third (37%) attend a midsize church of over 100, but not larger than 499. One in 11 (9%) attends a church with between 500 and 999 attenders, and slightly fewer (8%) attend a very large church of 1,000 or more attendees. (www.barna.org)


Dr. Tim Keller Weighs In

Our journey since retiring from ministry in a small, rural church found us returning to one of the churches we visited earlier.  Sharing communion, singing gospel songs, and hearing testimonies of God's faithfulness brought joy to our spirits. 

This morning, the following excerpt from a post about ministry in small churches by Dr. Tim Keller caught our attention. 

Young pastors should not turn up their noses at such places, where they may learn the full spectrum of ministry tasks and skills as they will not in a large church. Nor should they go to small communities looking at them merely as stepping stones in a career. Why not? Your early ministry experience will only prepare you for 'bigger things,' if you don't aspire for anything bigger than investment in the lives of the people around you. Wherever you serve, put your roots down, become a member of the community and do your ministry with all your heart and might. If God opens the door to go somewhere else, fine and good. But don't go to such places looking at them only as training grounds for 'real ministry.'

Read more HERE!


Real Church #12

 After a "week off", during which we returned to Grace Fellowship in El Paso, IL,
 we visited a church in our general neighborhood.
 The worship service is held in the beautiful, old sanctuary.

We particularly enjoyed the choir's selection.

The pastor (below) led the service and introduced the guest speaker for the morning.
 Before leaving, we stepped into a classroom where the Tabernacle was being constructed
out of Lego blocks!

Positive Features of this Real Small Church
(In addition to those listed above and as we experienced it one hour on one Sunday morning.
Not to be confused with the other 167 hours in the week.)
  • Friendly congregation
  • Beautiful communion service
  • Lay participation
  • Choir
  • Well-kept facilities and grounds
  • "Joys and Concerns" time


Back in the Saddle

 "Back in the saddle" ever so briefly,
 Gary delivered the sermon at Real Church #6 (Pathway Christian Church in our hometown)
in the absence of their pastor.


"Planting" in Real Small Communities

Two examples of Real Small Church planting in Real Small Communities!  Check out the stories--
Why not?
This is exciting stuff! 
And while we're at it:  here's a blog post  with  a great perspective
about pastoring small churches in small communities.
(The whole blog is worth a look!)


Real Church #11

 The portable sign outside the renovated theater in downtown Hicksville OH
 assured us we were in the right place.
 Upon entering, we found tables of literature and refreshments,
 and were greeted by someone who introduced herself by her first name
(interestingly, this may have been only the second time in our eleven visits that this was done).

 Upcoming events were included in this informational folder.
As first-time attenders, we were handed a Welcome Bag.
One of us needed the mint at the bottom of the bag within minutes of receiving it!
 Below, the unique interior of the Huber Opera House...
Positive Features of this Real Small Church
(In addition to those listed above and as we experienced it one hour on one Sunday morning.
Not to be confused with the other 167 hours in the week.) 
  • Well trained, friendly greeters
  • Congregation stood in respect for the reading of Scripture
  • Many in audience turned in their own copies of the Bible to follow along as Scripture was read
  • Solid, relevant  and Biblical teaching
  • Use of technology
  • Pastor's prayer indicated an awareness/concern for overseas' missions, nation and community
  • Wide range of ages and stages of life represented in audience


Real Church #10

 Monroe, IN was our destination.
 We located the church via their website.
Entry doors were only one of the places the church's mission statement was posted.
 A fine greeting table inside the front entrance contained simple & attractive brochures
communicating basic information about the church.
The screen above it relayed current and relevant information as well.
Apparently there was no weekly "bulletin" or worship folder.
 Entering the sanctuary, we were struck by the simplicity of the platform.
It was consistent with the wording in the brochure--"We really try to keep things
simple and down to earth".
Positive Features of this Real Small Church
(In addition to those listed above and as we experienced it one hour on one Sunday morning.
Not to be confused with the other 167 hours in the week.) 
  • Many attenders carried their Bibles
  • Bells chimed before worship (It was the first Sunday of the month and apparently the people are trained to count the # of rings.  These represented significant and reported encounters of people with Jesus Christ over the past month.)
  • "Call to Worship" delivered reverently and clearly.  "Don't rejoice in the act but rejoice in the One who acts."
  • Excellent musicians
  • Unique use of keyboard in absence of drums, guitars, etc.
  • Technology used effectively
  • Good (outward) response to the clear invitation following the sermon
  • We received a personal invitation to attend small group following the worship service.
"Faith is tested every time you are asked to do the right thing"


A Mid-Week Quotation

The pastoral itch to be where “the action is” should be resisted.  ~Eugene Peterson

Just saying....
I'm sure this is lifted from its context,
but it may be for SOMEone today.


Real Church #9

The Harlan United Methodist Church was our destination THIS week.
Friendly people greeted us - designated and spontaneously.

We were handed bulletins and the current issue of The Sunday Times, September 27 edition.
Screens on either side of the front platform flashed announcements 
and the church's mission statement as we waited for the service to begin.
It was Heritage Sunday and a good part of the service time included
a concert by a talented harpist, so we are aware it was not a "typical" Sunday.
We were invited multiple times to the carry-in dinner that followed but had other plans.

Positive Features of this Real Small Church
(In addition to those listed above and as we experienced it one hour on one Sunday morning.
Not to be confused with the other 167 hours in the week.)
  • Participation by several more persons in the congregation
  • Very attractive PowerPoint announcements, etc.
  • Longevity of presence in the community - over 170 years
  • Outreach programs including food bank and Upwards sports program


# 7 Again

 An early morning trip from our Indiana home to El Paso, IL.
 Both of us, this time.
 Our son was affirmed as pastor.
His family was welcomed; support expressed; prayers prayed.
Before returning home in the evening,
we helped him unpack books and shelve them in his new office.
LOTS of books!