In the town of New Dundee there is a small Baptist church that I have come to appreciate very much over the past couple of years. It definitely qualifies as a small church with less than fifty people in attendance most Sundays.
It faces the same challenges that most small churches face. It has limited room in its building, limited parking space and limited children and young people in its services. It lacks the resources to do everything that it would like to do but always manages to meet whatever emergencies might arise.
On the other hand the people are friendly and quite willing to talk about their church. I have spoken there a number of times over the past two years and have always received a warm welcome.
It certainly fits the description of a small church.
New Dundee Baptist Church does have one quality that sets it apart and it is this about which I want to write in this blog entry.
The distinguishing difference
If you were to visit New Dundee Baptist on a Sunday morning, you probably wouldn’t be aware of this difference. It isn’t on display for all to see but it is an important part of their church life.
The pastor at New Dundee is Rev. Paul Kowtecky and it is Paul’s approach to ministry that marks the difference.
Most pastors spend at least some period of their life in a small church. After all most large churches don’t look at seminary graduates when they look for a new senior pastor. They go looking for someone with experience and if the church is large enough they often steal their new pastor from another church.
Most pastors accept the idea that service in a small church is a necessary step in working their way up the ecclesiastical ladder. They begin in a small church and hopefully in a couple of years they move up to a medium-sized church and if they are one of the chosen few to a large church.
The difference at New Dundee is that Paul is not looking to move up that ladder. He believes that God has called him to be a small-church pastor and he is committed to serving in that setting.
He has been the pastor of New Dundee Baptist for sixteen years and while God may some day move him on from that setting it will not be to a larger church but to another small church where he can fulfill his calling.
In fact the one thing that could move Paul out of New Dundee Baptist would be if it suddenly grew and became a medium-sized church. At that point Paul has said that he would probably leave and find another small church that would fit his call.
It is interesting that pastors often feel a call to a larger church. Very rarely do they feel a call to move from a large or medium-sized church to a small one.
Even rarer is a pastor who believes that his call is only to small churches.
Paul began his move from the business world to the church world by enrolling in a small-church stream at seminary. At that time he already felt a call to focus on the small church and his training equipped him to do this.
The importance of longevity in small churches
The norm in small churches is that the pastor moves on every two to three years. A church has just begun to build a level of trust when the pastor accepts another pastorate in another location.
Many pastors quit after a few years.
Others get invited to another church and decide to move on.
Whatever the reason in most small churches there is a steady stream of pastors that come and go like clock work. The church just gets used to them and they are gone.
I remember my mother commenting on the fact that she would be at the church long after their pastor had moved on and wondering why they should allow him to make any significant changes when he wouldn’t be there to follow through on them.
Paul has been at New Dundee Baptist for sixteen years. The church has not only got used to him. They have come to trust him and his leadership, something that is absolutely vital to any church/pastor relationship.
He has been there long enough to have lived through many of the key moments in families’ lives. He has dedicated babies, baptized young people, married young adults and buried seniors all in the same family. That only comes with time.
There is a level of involvement that only comes with time and that is more intimate in a small church setting. When asked what made small church ministry special, Paul’s answer was that it is this kind of involvement that has built close relationships over sixteen years.
It’s a simple matter of arithmetic
John Koessler, professor at Moody Bible Institute and co-author with Ron Kessler of No Little Places tells his pastoral students that it is a simple matter of arithmetic.
Seventy-five percent of churches are small. It makes sense that most of the young people graduating from Bible colleges and seminaries across the country will pastor small churches.
We need more people like Paul who have a calling to spend their ministry life serving a small church with a commitment to stay in a church long enough to build a deep relationship of trust with the people there.
I can’t help but feel that if most of the churches are small then God must have a plan for providing these churches with leaders.
I would love to see the following:
- more churches like New Dundee Baptist with a pastor called to small churches and willing to spend sixteen years plus in one church
- Bible colleges and seminaries develop a program to train young people to serve in small churches because most of them are going to end up there
- denominations begin to emphasize that small-church ministry is as important as large church so that the leaders in small churches don’t feel like failures because they are in a small church
- more small churches love and support their pastors so that they won’t even think about moving on to another church
I am so thankful that I have the opportunity to travel the country visiting small churches and talking with their leaders. Most of those churches are doing things that would be of help to other small churches. If you are seeing God work in your church or if you feel that you have something that you would like to share, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to talk to you and hear your story.
Thanks for the article Ron. I can relate to several points you made. For instance, my first call was to be the 23rd pastor at a church with a history of just over sixty years. Do the math. I stayed over 6 years there and recall one senior member commenting that they didn’t expect me to stay more than a couple years and then move on.