By Skip Pullen, District Representative, Southwest District
Struggle or Succeed?
In my travels as a district representative for Village Missions, I find myself asking, “Why do some country and small-town churches succeed and others struggle? What are some characteristics of small churches that succeed?”
Some will attribute it to music style, amenities offered, or programs taking place. I believe it is something much deeper. Something that catches the heart of God. This article is not meant to be an exhaustive look at this subject. There can be any number of reasons why some small-town churches succeed and others struggle, but I want us to consider a few major ones.
Small Churches that Succeed Understand Their Mission
One reason that some succeed and others do not is understanding our mission. In Matthew 9:9*, Jesus calls Matthew and many tax collectors and sinners to follow Him. The Pharisees couldn’t understand this. They missed that if you are going to reach the sinner you need to go to them, not keep away from them. It is so easy today for us to get caught up in the ills of society.
What happens is we begin to distance ourselves from the lost because of their behaviors or our own perceptions of them.
In many rural communities, there is an influx of people that have had no previous contact with Christianity. We do not have to go to distant lands to connect with the lost, or foreign people, or those of other beliefs. The Lord is bringing them to us! The question is, do we see them? He wants us to reach them with His gospel of grace. We must understand that the lost are not our enemy, they are our mission!
We must look at our churches. Is there a balance between our outreach to the non-believer and the edification and training of the believer? This leads to my next reason some succeed and others struggle. Being on mission brings God’s blessing.
Small Churches That Succeed Understand What God Is Doing Through Them
Moving on in Matthew 9, both the Pharisees and the disciples of John questioned why Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast as they did. The problem was they missed what the Lord was doing, what was happening right now. There is nothing wrong with prayer and fasting. As a matter of fact, we all need to do these. The problem seems to be that they were more concerned about their ritual and what they were doing than what God was doing among them at that moment.
Jesus goes on to point out the new cloth isn’t sewn on an old garment nor new wine into old wineskins. This is another reason I have found why some succeed and other struggle, it is due, in part, to their flexibility (or lack of). Often, we can hold onto our old things. We want the familiar, and we fail to see what Christ is doing around us right now. It isn’t about old or new. It is about what God is doing.
We can miss that Christ is about bringing life and restoring lives. Oh, we have the understanding or concept of this, but we fail to put it into practice. Are our ministries flexible and open to what God is doing around us?
Matthew 9 goes on to share several incidents of this. Jesus is on His way to help a young girl who is dying, yet on the way He stops to respond to a woman who had a flow of blood that not only affected her physically, but also kept her ceremonially unclean. Who are those around us that we might see as “unclean” or in the way? Are we willing to stop and help them? Next, Jesus raises the young girl to life. Jesus wants to use us to share about Him so He can give everlasting life to the spiritually dead. Next, He heals a couple of blind men and casts out a demon from mute man.
Something I see here is that Jesus doesn’t always use the same method. There was no canned program. Sometimes He spoke, other times He touched. Some came to Him, others He went to. The key is faith. Each of these circumstances had to deal with the desperate needs of people, not programs. I think we see this in verse 36, “… when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.”
Small Churches That Succeed Recognize Their Need for Prayer
One last characteristic of country and small churches that succeed and others struggle is the need to pray. In churches, rural and urban alike, is prayer truly taking place? Many times, it is a brief blessing or traditional interlude in a church service, and nothing more. Even when prayer meetings are taking place, much of it is praying for the physical or financial well-being of those in the church rather than those still outside.
There is little interceding with God to draw the lost to Himself, pleading before His throne for their souls, and a crying out for Him to raise up workers to go into the harvest or for those already in the harvest. Are our hearts moved with compassion for the lost, the non-believer, the one who has yet to trust in Christ as his or her Lord and Savior?
God Can Use the Small Church!
The Lord is at work in small town America. He came to seek and save the lost. He is still calling the sinner to repentance. Are we willing to join Him in His harvest and to allow Him to use each of us to add to country and small-town churches those who are being saved?
All Bible references quoted from New King James Version.