Small church conference encourages leaders

Published May 01, 2013

YUBA CITY – Small churches were encouraged to tap into God’s Spirit, train servant leaders and fully engage in evangelism during the Smaller Membership & Rural Church Conference April 5-6 in Yuba City.

Sponsored by California Southern Baptist Convention, the conference focused on the unique needs of churches and church leaders who minister in congregations with average worship attendance of less than 150, as well as churches in smaller communities, according to Randy McWhorter, leader of the CSBC healthy church group.

McWhorter noted the Annual Church Profiles received by CSBC reveal 85 percent of churches reporting have attendance of 150 or fewer.

“In Southern Baptist life, statistics reveal 90 percent of pastors will never minister in a church with attendance greater than 200,” McWhorter said.

Tom Stringfellow, director of missions for Sierra Butte Baptist Association, approached McWhorter about having such a conference because he felt the annual On Target Evangelism Conference favored larger church ministries. Stringfellow requested something be done for smaller churches like those in his association.

McWhorter noted Stringfellow threw the support of his association behind such an event, which was then opened to smaller membership and rural churches statewide. He also noted speakers with “experience in working with smaller membership and rural churches” were enlisted to lead the event.

Ron Klassen stressed “Don’t despise the small things.”

One of those leaders, Ron Klassen, executive director of the Rural Home Missionary Association, told more than 200 attending the conference that there are “no little places” when it comes to God’s work. He warned and encouraged the audience to not equate size with success or “spiritual vitality.”

Klassen cautioned those serving in smaller churches not to be like the Israelites returning from captivity who were concerned about worship in a temple smaller than the one built by Solomon, which had been destroyed.

Klassen noted many Jews felt no temple was better than an inferior temple.

“It is neither might nor power that matters, but whether God’s Spirit is working inside the church and bringing life, health and vitality to the congregation,” Klassen declared.

He noted that two theological lessons to be understood when dealing with smaller congregations are: “God doesn’t dole out His Spirit in proportion to the size of the church” and “God does not view a smaller church as an inferior church.”

“Sometimes,” Klassen said, “we get discouraged because things aren’t happening at our church the way they are at other places. Remember, normal day-to-day ministry doesn’t get press, and remember that most ministry is normal. It’s only that which is out of the ordinary that draws headlines.”

Many believe there is “nobody left to appreciate the daily ordinary things that people are doing in your church.”

“Don’t despise the small things,” Klassen encouraged.

We do so when we:

  • don’t prepare for a smaller number the way we would for a larger number;
  • jump to conclusions based upon size alone;
  • assume that fewer resources (people, finances, buildings, etc.) limit God; and
  • assume not much can happen because we are small.

“If everything is too small to be effective, you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito,” Klassen quipped. “Remember, little is much when God is in it.”

He encouraged church leaders to not get caught up in the “small syndrome” and despise small things, but to “serve with confidence” knowing it is not by “might nor power, but with God’s Spirit that things can happen in smaller churches just like they can in a larger church.”

Henry Webb emphasized the importance of developing deacons to serve
Henry Webb, a former LifeWay Christian Resources employee who leads deacon ministry conferences, said while small churches have the same standing before God as other churches, small churches also are required to develop deacons for service.

He noted deacons are “church leaders,” but said, “There is no job description for deacons in the New Testament. Their job description is found in the name itself. They are servants, ministers.”

Deacons, Webb said, are the “servant leaders” of the church. The juxtaposition of the words servant and leadership are somehow not understood in current culture, he added.

“Somehow we think leaders are over others and servants are under others,” Webb explained.

He said many believe “servants are weak. However, our model of a servant leader is the Lord Jesus Christ who is a strong, dynamic leader, but always in the spirit of a humble servant.”

Webb said Christians should always remember that leadership is not about rank, power or prestige. It is strictly a matter of function.

The best way for deacons to show servant leadership is to “demonstrate their love and care as commanded in John 13:35.”

Webb concluded, “When a job needs to be done, it should not be below anyone to accomplish the task. When we agree to be a servant, we give up all rights and allow Him to determine who, how and when to serve.”

Jim Wilson encouraged becoming more public about witnessing
While deacons are to be servant leaders of the church, Jim Wilson, a former California pastor who currently is director of the doctor of ministry program at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, said every Christian who has made a public profession of faith should be more public with their witness.

Referring to Acts 4, Wilson noted Peter and John’s professions of faith to Jewish leaders who were astonished at these “unschooled and ordinary men.”

“We talk about a public profession of faith, but in their day it meant going public with your Christianity among people who would not be rejoicing with you,” Wilson said.

He added he suspects today’s society is more like the world in which Peter and John lived.

“I believe the world will get more hostile and we will know what it was like to ‘go public’ in the first century. Sometimes I feel like Rip Van Winkle and I’ve waked up and the world has changed.”

Wilson added that it took courage to make a public profession of faith as they did, but “none of us have the power within us to do it on our own.” However, it can be done with the power of “teamwork, love and Christ.”

“One thing plaguing churches today is spiritual isolation and the feeling of being in it alone.”

Wilson said the power of teamwork is a key to overcoming isolationism. Peter was isolated when he denied Christ on the night of His arrest, but he was powerful when with John before the Sanhedrin. Wilson noted Jesus sent the disciples out two-by-two.

“We need to realize we are not in it alone,” he asserted.

Noting Peter was able to conquer his fear through the power of love, Wilson encouraged the group to “nurture your love for Jesus … because love will make you do things you wouldn’t do naturally.”

The power of Christ through the Holy Spirit is essential, Wilson said. “Where men and women do not depend on the Spirit of God, there is no power. But where they do, ‘Oh my.’ There is no size or limit to what God can do with brothers and sisters who go public with their faith.

“Sometimes you just have to jump off the high dive,” Wilson said. “If you incorporate the power of teamwork, love and Christ, fear will not be a factor.”

Walt Hammonds, pastor of Grace Fellowship in San Andreas, and his wife, Myra, attended the conference because of “20 years of serving as a pastor of a smaller congregation,” he said, as well as his familiarity with Klassen.

Hammonds said the conference encouraged him since he is a minister in a small town.

“I think Klassen did a good job of encouraging us that my ministry isn’t a small ministry, but an important ministry in God’s sight,” Hammonds said.

Jonathan Morgan, pastor of Height Street Baptist Church in Bakersfield, said he was reminded that “falling in love with Jesus overcomes any fear” and “there is a price tag for growth which is spending quality time with the Lord,” sometimes including sacrifice along the way.

Morgan said these takeaways will be “worth the 11-hour drive if I put into practice what I’ve learned.”

Randy McWhorter noted, “There is definitely a need among CSBC churches to have a special time to talk about the needs of smaller churches.”

He said because of the response – 225 attended the conference – two one-day gatherings are scheduled for 2014 – March 29 and April 5.