One of the pastor's churches in this 2-point charge is very small, as I've mentioned before. In the weeks leading up to the appointment, we were hearing that they were down to about 10-12 in worship. This was usually presented as a gloomy reality, or maybe that's just the way I took it. I must say that I'm not feeling gloomy at all about this place.
This church was founded in the 1820's, with the current building dating to the 1930's. The oldest parishioner, a local farmer, remembers tagging along with his father and others as they cut down trees, hauled them via mule to the mill, and brought them to the current site to build the church house. I have no idea what has transpired there, or what attendance/participation numbers have looked like over the years, but there's no way to think of this place other than in decline and struggling to survive. We take up about $400 a week in offering there. They have some savings in the bank that's dipped into to pay bills, and they can probably continue at this rate for a few more years if nothing changes.
Since we've been coming, the worship attendance has averaged in the low 20's, I would guess. Half of the increase of course, is our family of 5. But I think some folks are showing up out of curiosity about the new pastor. The regular attendees are mostly related to each other and are mostly elderly, but there's a youngish couple that attends, and we even had another visiting couple with a baby last week.
What to do? A case could be made for making plans to shut it down. Many churches do just that, and it doesn't have to mean some kind of failure. But these folks are not ready to go quietly, and they want the place to go forward making disciples. Our old farmer, in his 80's, has his parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents buried in the cemetery there, and doesn't want to see the place die before he does. He's not alone in that feeling.
This is a church about 5 minutes from a thriving artsy town and 10 minutes from a large state university. There are probably a dozen subdivisions close by, with large houses on large lots. If you drive around the area, it feels like you're in the country, but beyond all the trees and lush vegetation, there are people. It seems like the ideal spot to plant a church. So that's what the pastor has in mind - a reboot.
She called a former pastor of ours at our "home church" who has recently retired, but is now consulting. She wanted to ask him who would be a good resource to help this place "vision" and discern what God wants for it. He said he'd do it. For 10% of his usual fee. Wow, what a blessing. This is a guy who has started a couple churches from scratch, and everywhere he's gone, ridiculous growth has followed. He does not take credit for the growth God brought, but he knows something about getting out of God's way and being available for God's use. We've met 3 times now with a group of 6-10, and will meet a total of about 12 times as we try to discern how to move forward.
It is a great joy already to see hope and excitement on the faces of these dear people who have been sad and struggling. It is not just a hope in our consultant. It is not just a hope in the pastor, or a hope in the process of discernment. It is a hope in the goodness of God, and God's care for God's people. It is also, I think, a softening of the corporate heart of this place, and a love and concern for those people who live behind the trees and vegetation - people who are hard to see when you are turned in on yourself and your own pain and struggles. I can't wait to see what's going to happen here.