The following is a column I wrote for the St. Albans Messenger. I hope it is encouraging to you whether or not you are part of the Georgia Plain Baptist Church family.
A member of our church recently returned from visiting family out of state. There, he attended a large church, complete with a parking crew, a loud worship band, and auditorium seating. When he relayed what the experience was like, he said with a smile that he sure was glad to get back to his little country church in Georgia.
The timing was uncanny, because I had just returned from a conference for Vermont pastors all about rural, small town ministry. It was called a “Small Town Summit” (smalltownsummits.com). I joined two other Franklin County pastors: Jason McConnell, of Franklin and East Franklin United Church, and B.J. Walters of Redeeming Grace Church in Georgia. The Summit’s goal was to gather rural pastors for encouragement and networking, to talk about the value of “ministering a great big gospel in small and forgotten places.”
Vermont is a small, often forgotten place. We have the second smallest population in the U.S. (after Wyoming). We usually make small headlines. We are a land dotted with small towns, small schools, and small churches.
The rest of our country (and world) is quickly moving in the opposite direction. In 2007, for the first time in our nation’s history, more people lived in urban areas than in rural ones. By 2050, only 30% of the U.S. population will inhabit small towns, while 70% will be in urban and suburban settings (in 1950, 70% were rural and 30% urban).
Many of us live in Vermont precisely because of its smallness. We love being out of the spotlight, away from the hustle and bustle. But in the wider culture, rural areas are forgotten and despised. We don’t have much of what the world values: cultural influence, wealth, or political power. How many people in Manhattan know or care about places like Richford or Fletcher?
Unfortunately, the same attitude has crept into the church. For decades, with the growth of the megachurch movement, small places have been overlooked, even despised. Since small places have less influence on culture, they were less strategic to reach, and had less of a return on investment of resources. For pastors, there’s a temptation to see a small country church as a “starter church” on the way to something bigger and better. For members of small churches, it can be tempting to think, “If only we had bigger attendance, a bigger budget, a bigger building, then we would have something to offer.”
But maybe that is all wrong.
It turns out that the gospel Christians believe exemplifies the power of small. If the story were not so familiar to us, it would seem ridiculous. Jesus was born in a stable and grew up with poor parents in a backcountry village. (“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” [John 1:46]). Jesus had only a handful of disciples. They had no property, no wealth, no political power. And when Jesus was crucified, it looked like a complete failure. What kind of strategy is that?
Likewise, God's love for small things is extravagant—even wasteful. He is like a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep to go recover one that is lost (Luke 15:1-7). He throws extravagant parties for people who don’t deserve it (Luke 15:11-27). He gave his Son to die for people who can never repay him.
As one of the presenters at our conference said, “God does not disdain what is small.” On the contrary, he esteems it. His kingdom starts like a mustard seed (Matt 13:31-32), and in his economy, two pennies offered in love are more than a thousand dollars given for show (Mark 12:41-44).
The power of small is built into the very way God works and saves. Therefore, if you are a member of a small church, know that God has powerful work to do through you. It may not look flashy, strategic, or impressive, but it is eternally important. Embrace the power of small.