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The Church of Mistaken Identity and Lost Purpose.

“The light is the brightest in the deepest darkness, even so is God in the mist of His chosen few.”

Word association exercises are often good indicators to the mindset and worldview of the participate involved. Sociologist often use this method to determine the thought process of their subjects. If you ask a group of people to express words that they would associate with small, you would get a wide range of responses. With most, if not all, the responses are negatively charged in application. This should be of no surprise since if one would look up the word small in the dictionary it has been portraited negatively in many of the same ways. Definitions such as; having comparatively little size or slight dimensions; minor in influence, power, or rank; little or close to zero in an objectively measurable aspect.

With the latter definition mentioned it is no wonder that the small church struggles with loss of identity and loss of purpose for themselves. If you would do the same exercise with “small church” you would get many of the same negative results: insignificant numbers, lack of money, handful, inexperienced and entry level pastors. Often people inside and outside the church define small churches by the numbers they have, or even the lack of. Numbers are most often used when judging the small church, pointing out its inadequacies or devaluing its effectiveness.

“Esteem has to do with identity and well-being; it is connected with the discovery or recovery of one’s God-given individuality.”

This is the struggle for the churches with such dynamics within its body. They see themselves as insignificant and many times impotent. Their self-esteem is negative and self-defeating. Psychologist Marsha Sinetar has this to say about the subject: “Self-esteem is just an idea we have about ourselves…about our competence, our worth, and our power…a picture we have in our minds about ourselves.” She further suggests that “we often lose sight of our identity and self-esteem, or find it distorted, damaged, or hidden.”

It is very often that small churches, like individuals, lose the image of themselves that God intended for them in the culture that they exist. They are many times swayed by the image dictated by peers, society as a whole and a culture that is dominating, an image backed by past failure and depression.

The mission is to rediscover and capture that healthy God-given image that He intended and recover the small churches self-esteem and be transformed in it. Sinetar concludes: “[self-esteem is feelings] and self-pictures that we ourselves make real, and only we can change it for the better, for our own good, forever.”

When identity is lost or distorted then purpose is lost or distorted as well. The uncertainty of self-causes purpose to drift from the center, and left unchecked and uncorrected will lead to areas never intended to be dwelled in. No church happens accidently. There is intention and purpose driving the new congregation of believers. But time seems to cause drift and slackness. We all become complacent in our worship, satisfied with tradition and status quo. The fire in the belly grows cold without the coals being stoked like a blacksmith’s furnace. The church finds itself saying, “we had no idea where we were going or what we were doing.”

For far too long the small church has bought a bill of goods that does not need to be true. They have bought into the assumption that since they are small then they must be insignificant. Small does not have to mean it is negative but that in fact it is positive. The words that can accentuate the positive can be close, community, family, intimacy, and trusting are some of the things that can be said, but potential is another. If you take a moment and think about the size of the church, then you can see that the small church has tremendous potential to do the mighty things for God. The smallest obedient deed can be magnified because no one expects much from them. God receives multiplied glory in the mist of His small body of believers. The light is the brightest in the deepest darkness, even so is God in the mist of His chosen few.

In the next few weeks and months I hope to expand and look in more detail some of the pitfalls and distractions that move small churches from outward faithful obedience to inward self-preservation. God can still do the greatest and most significant work with the least of these. If we still believe and trust that then I think we are in some pretty good company.


At death’s door: Is the Church ready to grow?

“As a leader, I knew that it could not be a pastor focused leadership or even a board centered leadership, it had to be all of us praying, seeking, and wanting to move forward to allow God to lead us into the next season of the church’s life.” – Dr. Desmond Barrett

I stood in the small foyer of my first ministry assignment, praying, ‘Lord send us someone new.’ Each week the same eight to thirteen people walked into that tiny church, sat in the same pew, and spoke to the same handful of people content in where they found themselves. I was filled with much hope and promise, but it seemed that week after week, only the same people showed up. I questioned, doubted, and cried to myself, praying that God would turn around this church that was at death’s door. That first year of my active ministry would be transformational in my thinking by helping the church shift its vision and mission to be a church that cared about ‘others’ rather than ‘self.’ To open doors to the community rather than wall themselves off from what was happening around them.

Death had not come to this once vibrant church overnight, but gradually and it snuck up on them through deaths, families moving away, and a series of pastors over twenty years. A new young pastoral family with children was not going to change the trajectory of the church without the church willing to transform. The church was at death’s door, but were they willing to do what it would take for them to grow again?

Three overarching questions challenged us that first year; 

  1. Are we willing to change?
  2. Are we willing to adapt our practices to prepare for the future and move out of the past?
  3. Are we willing to adapt to the needs of the neighborhood?

Leaders who have led their churches regardless of size through renewal have faced difficult moments, challenging times, and excitement as they began to see progress in their efforts. As a leader, I knew that it could not be a pastor focused leadership or even a board centered leadership, it had to be all of us praying, seeking, and wanting to move forward to allow God to lead us into the next season of the church’s life. Twelve months and three questions helped spark renewal that is still happening today.

  1. Are we willing to change?

Embracing change is challenging, but embracing change when everything around the church is changing is difficult. The church has to be willing to change not only in words but deeds. It’s easy to say; yes, we need to change, but it’s quite another to be a part of the progress of change. If a church is to change, you need change agents who are willing to adapt to the circumstances of the moment while projecting a forward image of the future. In this small church, the church leadership had to agree to take on the vision, a journey of a thousand days, and be willing to stretch themselves to prepare for the future blessing that was to come. It was easy for some but very difficult for most. Prayer and petitioning the Lord became our focus. Praying for wisdom, praying for the release of individual self-will for the Saviors-will, and petitioning God to provide a way forward became our focus.

  1. Are we willing to adapt our practices to prepare for the future and move out of the past?

This is the most challenging question for any church that is considering rebooting their spiritual and physical space to prepare for future guests. In an age when everything around a senior saint (historians) is changing, holding on to what is familiar becomes more critical than ever. This is also a space that can become the devil’s playground. Where change agents bump up against the historians of the church. Many pastors and change agents are slain in this space, which enables historians to keep everything frozen in time, a time capsule to yesteryear.

As we embarked on the journey of a thousand days, the church leaders had to embrace the broader vision that the physical inside of the church needed to be prepared for future guests. While we did not have a lot of money, we did have willing individuals that provided elbow grease to our efforts. The church had many stained yellowing ceiling tiles, which were taken down and painted ultra-bright white, cleaned out classrooms which had become closets, to become classrooms again, and darkened light bulbs were changed out and or repaired. 

While these were simple acts, they were transformative for a church that had not updated anything in over a decade. It provided hope, optimism, and pride for what had been accomplished. It challenged the historians to an inch of their comfort zone and gave early wins to the change agents, thus enabling the church to progress forward.

  1. Are we willing to adapt to the needs of the neighborhood?

As churches begin to die, they focus more and more on themselves and forget the neighborhood around them. This causes resentment from the historians that have sheltered in place, feeling like the community should want to walk into the church and worship with them. Maybe that happened in the past, but in the present, people don’t usually show up on the church’s doorstep with their offering in hand. 

What we learned together at the small church was to connect with the neighbors not from the vantage point; ‘what can you do for us, but what can we do for you.’ When you reach out through community block parties, Serve Days, where you go into the neighborhood to paint, mow lawns, trim bushes, you begin to develop relationships that allow you to share your faith. Once the neighbors realize you are there for them, in most cases, they will reciprocate and be there for the church. This step is long and slow but well worth the community investment. 

The first year was challenging, but we began to grow again. What started as eight people ended as eighteen after year one and it placed in the hearts of the church members, that God was still at work in that tiny forgotten church. What we all learned together that first year was death may come knocking at the church door, but we did not have to answer because God would if we trusted him.

Let me encourage you by saying, that change will not come overnight, but change will come if you are willing to lead the church forward to her growth years by enabling God to take hold of the church in a radical way.

Desmond Barrett

Dr. Desmond Barrett is lead pastor at Summit Church of the Nazarene in Ashland, Kentucky.

Whose kingdom are we building?

“Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Haggai 1:4

The dream was coming true. The time had come for the exiled people to return from Babylon, the place of captivity. Zerubbabel brought the first wave of Israelites back to Jerusalem. They were tasked with building the Temple of the Lord and the excitement was more than they could contain. But time can be an enemy for the mission. We know the reason that the Lord spoke the rebuke to the people about stopping the work on the Temple and living in houses finer than what the Lord Himself had. Because of opposition, resistance, and distractions the people turned to building for themselves instead of for the Lord.

Look at the times we live in now. There is probably no greater time as now, full of things that pull our attention away from the Lord’s work and His service. As individuals, we run here and run there checking off things to do and places to be. It’s easy to lose sight of the “Why” we do something because of the concern for “How” we do it.

“We often get so consumed with the task that we forget the purpose.”

This can be a problem for the local church as well. The first way is due to oppression and resistance. Many times, the people start off strong and energetic for the work of the Kingdom but trouble comes along. Disgruntled bystanders, ones that are not doing the work, deflate the enthusiasm that the people have had for the work. Time just wears on them and they turn their attentions more and more to their own lives and where they see less resistance. Folks that were once dedicated, faithful laborers of the Kingdom drift into the distance focusing more on themselves now.

The second way that Kingdom work shifts from the original purpose is the growing desire to grow “Your church” or “Your congregation” and forgetting that it all starts with and belongs to God. Oh, we start well like the workers for the temple, building for the Kingdom of God for His glory, but distractions get in the way because things are going well and growth has come. It’s exciting because people are coming in and finances are not as much of a problem as before. This is where we must be careful, because the good thing, the shiny thing becomes our god. Taking our eyes off of the original and true purpose and turning into “Our kingdom” purpose.

The third thing that can cause the church to loss sight of the purpose is complacency. Complacency is becoming too comfortable where your at. For the church this can happen after some time of success and growth where it becomes routine. This is the start of the plateau that many churches find themselves. complacency and plateau is in the middle, not going up or down, it is a easy, not stressful or challenging.

Oswald Chambers wrote: “Shut out every other consideration and keep yourself before God for this one thing only – My utmost for His Highest. I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and for Him alone.”

Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

We can go about and build a kingdom of possessions and amass all the wealth that we can possibly imagine, but that will not do us any good when the end of days come to each and every one of us on earth. For “Our kingdom” will end up in someones hands, other than ours, when we die. We are living in a temporal world surrounded by temporal things.

The Kingdom of God is eternal. The Kingdom that we, as His children, heirs with Christ, inherit and are to be workers in is an Everlasting Kingdom. “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.” Psalms 145:13

Let us today, in these times of oppression, resistance, and distractions, keep our eyes and minds on the work of the Father, building the Kingdom of God.

Rob Beckett Pastor Church of the Nazarene in Shepherdsville, Kentucky

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5 – Steps to Moving the Local Church forward

If you are a member of a typical church in North American, your church is either in decline or at least plateaued.  The struggles of the established church are real, regardless of what denomination you serve.  In the last decade, I have served as a pastor in the established church, and, in my research and service, I have found five steps to moving the local church forward.

Step 1: Becoming a praying church

A church that is going to renew itself for the future and to move from decline to growth is a church that needs to have a prayer life that shows it is trusting God with all. That means “churches need to pray with a purpose.” One of the useful models I have used is Big Group – Small Group – Prayer Group, which is done weekly for one hour.

Big Group – Gather together for a purpose in a dedicated group to cry out to God for direction, vision, and others.

Small-Group – Divide into smaller groups of three to five people to pray over a list of prayer needs (community, denominational leaders, schools, etc.).

Prayer Group – In the same small group, have members pray for the needs of each member in that group.

Step 2: Know the churches mission

When the leadership is trusting God for the increase, they begin to move from an inward-focused posture to an outward-looking stance that prioritizes others over self, and it is at that moment the church starts to turn from survival to service. The church has to ask, what has God called the church to do? As they reflect, they begin to look locally and globally to expand the kingdom, and the mission field moves from the church property to the larger realm. The goal of the missional church is not to duplicate services but to fill the void in the community, through sowing generously of their time, talent, and treasure.

 Step 3: Focus on what God can do

 When the heart of the church becomes the eyes to love others who are hurting, the church becomes the community by reaching outside instead of focusing within. The church begins to rebound from decline to vitality, by reestablishing the real mission of God in the local context. 

The church has to ask, is God in control of us? Sure, numbers matter, but do not let that control the church. Value as a church should not be in worship attendance. Value is in people (inside and outside) of the church. When the church connects outside with the community, value is built and felt.

Step 4: The Word is the word to follow

As churches face decline, the leadership is forced to evaluate all aspects of the church (programs, positions, and power) by inspecting what is working, what is not working, and what needs to be added or subtracted.

Throughout this process, the Bible should be the church’s guide. The Word of God is elevated and not programs. Churches that revitalize from decline are churches that read the Word, hear the Word preached, taught the Word in small/large groups, and see the Word lived out. 

Step 5: In all, you do serve God with glory

The fact that a church has plateaued or is declining should be seen as an opportunity to redirect the church from self to Savior and from Savior to others over a period of time. The people who make up the local church have to do a self-evaluation by reflecting on; whose church is it? Once the members realize that it is God’s church and God’s design, the church can begin to reflect on four areas of service.

Serve with excellence in every way. Every program, everything done, should be done to God’s glory.

Serve with passion. Passion for finding, reaching, and winning the lost.

Serve with commitment. To be in the King’s service until he calls the church home, and never give up when the field becomes hard to plow.

Serve for others. The church is designed for the neighborhood and those who live in the community, and not just for members. 

These five practical steps can help your church begin to move out of a rut and onto the road of renewal. 

Dr. Desmond Barrett is lead pastor at Summit Church of the Nazarene in Ashland, Kentucky.

Rob Beckett is pastor at Shepherdsville Church of the Nazarene Shepherdsville, Kentucky.

Missing Opportunity in Rural Churches?

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.”

Double Bracket: A small church, a rural church, does not mean death or impotence but possibility and opportunity.

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.

Join the Network Today!

“Sometimes God calls you to the hard places to do the hard things.”

– Dr. J.K. Warrick

Welcome to our page! The Rural Revitalization Network is committed to encouraging pastors, churches, and communities throughout rural America to Engage, Equip, and Empower through local resources to build God’s church. Rural churches are still at the heart of God’s plan, and remains relevant to the call, worthy of our effort to help, and we stand committed with each pastor, church, and community to win the lost for Christ.

The goal of “The Rural Revitalization Network” is to engage, equip and empower rural pastors, churches, and communities for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God in their local context. Rural congregations can become overshadowed by a diminished sense of significance and self-worth but, we are here to change that!

Through various resources and networking of pastors and churches using regular monthly meetings, quarterly workshops, books, articles, podcasts, blogs and interviews with various leaders and teachers we look to encourage, equip, empower and walk with our brothers and sisters together.

Some see rural America as a place to retreat from the noise and the confusion of city life. It’s a place to relax and enjoy recreation activities. Others see rural America as a decaying and dying landscape where people are stuck in the past and are as rundown as the old homes and churches that dot the landscape. Still others see rural people as closed-minded people who reject modern society and perpetrate longstanding biases toward others.

What do you see? Christ sees people who are without a Shepherd. To Him, these communities represent individuals who have been devastated by the ravaging effects of sin and are in desperate need of the Gospel. 

Let us have our eyes open to see as Christ sees the church and community that the church is in as fields that are ripe for the harvest and ready for the laborers to come work in them. 

What to expect: Weekly touch points from the Network.

Monday – Articles or blog post with topic germane to your local context.

Wednesday – Weekly Postcast (Starting October 14)

Friday – Short teaching/encouraging videos 

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