When we pastor small churches, we can encounter unimaginable joys and incredible closeness with our congregants. But just as pastors of larger churches can face certain challenges because of their size, those of us in smaller churches can also encounter our own inherent issues that may cause stress and call for creative problem-solving. In our small church, partnership has provided an answer to some of the challenges.
My own situation started with a very loving and gracious church. Currently, we average about 65 people per week in worship. Just ve years ago, when I started at Grace Pointe, there were 15 people, a mortgage that was about to crush them, and not much hope for the congregation to continue.
As I began my pastorate there, I did what a lot of pastors do. I became involved in community programs, got a part-time job at the school, and I helped coach a Little League baseball team. Through these efforts and the continuing faithfulness of our congregation, we were able to reach children and families that began to call Grace Pointe in Bloom eld, Iowa, their home.
One of the biggest struggles for a small church in a small town is nances. As the church grew, we reached people who gave faithfully, as they were able, but we still dealt with a mortgage that was very di cult to pay, along with other obligations. Perhaps every pastor who encounters a similar situation knows that a majority of the church’s nances often go to the building instead of community ministry. Thankfully, we have seen God do some incredible things in recent days.
A New Partnership
About a year ago, our district superintendent, Rev. Kim Smith, took me to a church board meeting in a town an hour and 15 minutes away from Bloomfield. The Chariton Church of the Nazarene was in a different situation than what I started with at Grace Pointe, but it still faced a possible closure due to struggling attendance, an aging building, and few people under the age of 55.
In that board meeting, we discussed the possibility of bringing two congregations together. Linked by technology, one pastor could begin the process of raising leaders in both churches. If we did that, the Chariton church could remain open and allow God to do a new thing in them (Isaiah 43:18–19). In Bloomfield, lay leaders could be trained to help ful ll the duties of the church (Ephesians 4:11–12). Visitation, teaching, and administrative duties could be shared by committed members of the church who desired to see God do something through them.
Over the last year, both of our campuses have seen God work through this plan. Every Sunday, I preach from either one of our locations, and we livestream the sermon to the other. Both campuses have live music during worship, and lay leaders take on the responsibilities of the services.
One of the greatest results of this partnership has been seeing how the people in our churches have taken on the commitment to pray for each other and for the other campus! God has called Grace Pointe Bloomfield to sacrifice their pastor for the sake of a congregation over an hour away from the
Grace Pointe Chariton has prayed for God’s blessings to continue, not only for their own community, but for the people of Bloomfield, as well. They see the sacrifice that has been made, and they are moved to prayer. We have certainly encountered some di culties along the way. For a pastor, being present in specific situations is very important. When a car accident happens in the town where the pastor lives, he or she can get to the hospital quickly. When it happens in the other town, getting there takes a bit longer. When someone needs spiritual counsel at the altar after a service, the pastor must make sure that there will be someone on site who can minister to that person.
Another challenge to having one pastor running two services is the time synchronization. If only the sermon is being livestreamed from the first location, worship and any other activities in the service must be finished at the second service by the time the livestreaming begins. So the leaders at the second church have to make sure everything follows a preset schedule. In addition, working with two church boards, including fostering healthy communication between the boards at the two locations, can be very challenging. Watching a preacher on a screen may happen frequently in urban cities around the country, but in small town Iowa, some people will have difficulty adjusting to this method. We remind our congregations that even our school districts are learning that sharing teachers over the internet is a great way to save expenses and still expose their students to quality learning experiences. What may be strange for some of our congregants is normal for our children and teens, even in smaller school districts like ours. As time passes, we will see this approach used in more and different ways.
This partnership has resulted in several awesome outcomes. For instance, both churches are able to save money by only paying a part-time salary. So, with our two campuses sharing the expense of one pastor, I am able to focus on full-time ministry. Splitting my week in half allows me to be in both locations throughout the week. Our Bloomfield campus holds midweek activities on Wednesdays, and our Chariton campus activities occur on Thursdays.
It is amazing to see two very different groups of people join together in this unique plan God is revealing to their congregations. In areas where one church struggles, they are able to learn from the other. Youth and their positive energy comes from one, while maturity and commitment comes from the other. We are trying new ways of community outreach and revisiting older ideas at the same time in both congregations. Everyone involved has been learning valuable lessons through this partnership.
Dreams for the Future
As both campuses look toward the future, we are dreaming big. There are small communities all over southern Iowa that need holiness preaching and teaching. Exciting ideas about using college interns are in the works. Our life groups, which are small groups that meet on Sunday evenings, are already extending beyond our current towns and planting communities of believers in the geographical area between Bloomfield and Chariton. As congregants of each campus have opened up their hearts to allow God to do a new thing, they are dreaming of more possibilities. These two congregations have learned that giving sacrificially is an act of worship. We will continue to pray for God’s blessing and direction as we continue to seek to follow His will.