Sometime ago I meditated on the plight of our congregations, particularly our small churches, particularly those who limited their mission and ministry to care of those in that congregation. In every case decline is the result.
Let me tell you another story. Johnson Chapel is a small congregation. In October of 2002 Tom Salter, a retired pastor, was appointed there, sure that he would be the last pastor. For a couple of years, Johnson Chapel continued to decline (attendance under 20) then in 2005, in Tom’s words, “the stone was rolled away . . . and a near-death revival began.” Attendance doubled, offerings increased 80%, 28 new members were received in the next two years.
Because dozens of our congregations currently suffer the same plight as the old Johnson Chapel, I asked Tom to cite the major things he has learned about small churches:
“Our priorities (of focus and of financial support) are #1, outreach ministries and missions: #2, congregational ministries; #3, facilities and properties; #4, pastor’s compensation.
Factors contributing to our amazing growth are:
First: A giving spirit. A dying organism tends to preserve itself by conserving its resources. If you want to live – give!
Second: A seeker-friendly atmosphere. I have not made a single ‘cold-call’; the people reach out first. We use monthly ‘Friendship Suppers’ to attract community people. We now have an early worship service, and an inter-service ‘coffee time’ for mingling.
Third: Strong care ministries, both lay and pastoral. We now have an effective card ministry for sick, confined, and needy persons in the community. A ‘Compassionate Hand’ ministry is a community benevolence fund for the needy. We are asked by the school to ‘adopt’ 4 needy children. Instead, we adopted 11. Many of our new congregants came to Johnson Chapel as a result of our pastoral care outreach.
Fourth: Stable pastoral leadership. I have stayed there. The growth spurt did not begin until my third year.”
Our small congregations can grow! Thanks to this able “retired” pastor for his leadership. We are all learning what God can do when we join Jesus “beyond the boundaries.”
William H. Willimon