The culture that we live in now is different than 50 years ago, but is that a convenient excuse for doing nothing?
I remember growing up in a rural church in the backcountry of Salt Rock, West Virginia. Looking back, it was special times that at the time I probably didn’t appreciate to the fullest extent that I should have. It was a church that my papa Herman was a charter member and preacher. It was nothing fancy, it had no stained glass or colored lighting to brag about, and the carpet had seen better days, but there was something special about that place.
The sanctuary of that Church was probably smaller than most fellowship halls at other places. The Church was small, the town was small (the sign leading into town on one side said welcome to Salt Rock, and the other side of the sign said, come back and see us), but that was alright. There are things that God can do in small churches that are difficult to do in a larger congregation.
In that small Church, people trusted and believed enough in God that they did the things that came naturally to them; they believed and obeyed God when He moved on the people. They had the unapologetic faith to read and respond to God’s word because it was real to them. I remember services were nothing short of “Heaven coming down” on the congregation that moved us to worship that flowed and glorified God with every ounce of our being. Services were the Spirit of God moved so mightily that worship broke out with the opening prayer, and nothing else happened except praise, glory, and honor to the One True King!
There was so much more than singing and worship alone; souls were being saved and transformed, not just occasionally, but continually — people surrendering all so that they could be conformed into the image of Christ the King. Souls snatched from the flames of Hell, released from the bondage of addictions, and delivered from every sort of darkness.
Another distinguishing mark of this small Church of fewer than 100 people was the unmistakable unity among the members. They were a pure body, joined together by love. Jesus said that they, (the onlooking world), will know you are My disciples by following My commandments and that you have a passion for one another.
Today, the small rural Church that is shining the light brightly and proudly is the exception and not the norm.
What is different now? The culture that we live in now is different than it was 50 years ago. But, is that a convenient excuse to be found doing nothing in our congregations?
According to the 2017 stats that the Church of the Nazarene reports in USA/Canada, 75% of all Nazarene churches are 99 people or less in average worship. Even more reflective of the churches is that of those, 47% are 50 people or less in USA/Canada.
We live in a Post-Christian era where there is the loss of the primacy and importance of the Christian worldview in public affairs. Especially in the Western world where Christianity had previously flourished, in favor of alternative worldviews such as secularism, nationalism, environmentalism, and combative atheism along with many others.
For far too long, the small rural Church has placed itself in a posture of protection and defense from the culture around it. The Church is called, regardless of size, to “Go” engage neighborhoods with the gospel in a new and vibrant way. Psalms 1:3 states, “He (Church) shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he (Church) does shall prosper.”
If a church, regardless of size, is not engaging the community outside their walls, then they are missing the opportunity for God to do Mighty and Powerful works and deeds in their mist.
“if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14
I have been able to see awe and wonder in my rural Church, where I have pastored for five years now. I have witnessed God move in amazing ways that leave people seeing His mighty hand over us. Most importantly, seeing lives being saved and transformed into the image of King Jesus.
A small church, a rural church, does not mean death or impotence but possibility and opportunity. You are in an area where you probably know your neighbor’s brokenness and discouragement even more intimately. You have a more significant chance to pull up close to hurting people and introduce them to the God that loves and heals.
A church does not have to have a grand scheme or plan laid out on how to do it. Just trust the Holy Spirit to guide one obedient step at a time. The beautiful thing about it is that we don’t have to worry about where we are going, because if we follow each step one at a time, we will always end up where He wants us, guaranteed.