By Nancy Kauffmann
When I began my role as a conference minister 13 years ago, I was told about a congregation located in a small community in the northern part of the state. It was a struggling congregation, predicted to close its doors within a couple of years. The congregation was described as having very little going for it and once their savings were gone, they would cease to exist.
Soon after I visited, expecting to find either a struggling congregation trying to hang on to the past or a defeated congregation, biding time until death finally came. Instead, I found a congregation that was neither struggling nor defeated, but full of joy. It was a congregation that had worked through some major issues. They had moved to a healthy understanding of who they were and had renewed their commitment to God. They believed that until God made it clear they were to close their doors, they would live life in Christ to the fullest until their last breath. Several principles guided the congregation’s behavior.
- They did not focus on living in the past and trying to be the congregation they once were.
- They accepted that death might eventually come and instead found ways to thrive in their faith and witness.
- They did not feel sorry for themselves, but joyfully remembered what God had done for them in the past and anticipated what God would do with them till the end.
- They did not focus on what they could no longer do and instead focused on what they could do.
- They did not focus on what they didn’t have—large numbers, money– but instead took inventory of what they did have and carefully discerned how best to use what they had and what they could realistically do. They empowered each member to use their gifts.
- They did not try to do big projects, but looked for smaller projects they could manage that would have an impact on their faith community and the local community.
- They did not sit inside their four walls hoping that new people would come to them, but instead went out into the community building relationships and responded to the needs they encountered.
- They did not let their facility run down, but instead found ways to improve the facilities such as making the building handicapped accessible, and making necessary repairs.
- They did not isolate themselves from the wider church, but instead enjoyed attending conference assemblies and other church wide meetings to build relationships, learn from others and to share their joy of God’s faithfulness to them. Their positive presence was contagious and built up the wider faith community.
- They focused on loving each other, loving God, keeping their minds open to what God was telling them, anticipating that God would do a new thing and then responding to God with energy and commitment.
Nine years later, on my last official visit to the congregation, I asked about a line in their bulletin naming who were the nursery caregivers for that Sunday. I knew that they didn’t have any families with babies. I was told that while there were no babies, the congregation wanted to be prepared to offer hospitality in case someone with a baby came to visit. I realized they were unlike many churches that turn unused nurseries into storage areas or for other uses. That Sunday, I understood why I always felt welcomed when I entered the doors of the congregation. They were always prepared to offer hospitality and did so in such gracious and thoughtful ways.
Now it is 13 years later and the congregation is still going strong! As a very small congregation they have a mighty witness in their community. God isn’t done with them yet. They have had a wonderful journey filled with interesting stories. One of my favorites is about a man in the community who refused to “ever darken the doors of a church.” So they asked him if it would be alright to hold a men’s Bible study in his home. To their surprise, he agreed. The group of men met regularly in his home up until the day he died.
I am encouraged every time I think of this congregation and others like it across the church. I am inspired to see how one little congregation can do wonderful things that touch the lives of others. I am grateful that there are other small congregations across the Church living to their fullest and using all they have received from God. They remind me of the many biblical stories of God using the small, little-known, and powerless to accomplish what God desires to be done. It is always far more than any of us can ever imagine.