“Churches like Philippi are the backbone of Southern Baptist life,” Page told Baptist Press. “By far the majority of our churches are small in size. We value them and see their involvement at all levels of Convention life.” (http://www.bpnews.net/42299/small-rural-philippi-baptist-church-celebrates-bicentennial)
The church at which Dr Page spoke recently celebrated their 200th anniversary. They average 150 in Sunday attendance. I am glad to read Dr Page’s affirmation. I do, however, question at what level small churches are involved at all levels of Convention life. I can’t seem to recall the last time a small church pastor was president of the SBC or the Pastor’s Conference. I cannot afford to attend the annual meeting of the SBC most years (I was president of the NWBC for two years and our regional convention did make it possible for me to attend gatherings in New Orleans and Houston). I live in rural, Southern Oregon about 200 miles from an airport that offers reasonable airfares (around $350-500 per person for most roundtrips outside Oregon, California, and Las Vegas). Add in hotel costs in most major cities where conferences and annual meetings are held and money flows faster than the South Umpqua River at flood stage!
I honestly don’t have answers, but if small churches are valued, I don’t often see it or hear about it. (I must confess that I have been given wonderful opportunities – I earned my M.Div at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and my D.Min at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). But in spite of my best efforts our church has not doubled, quadrupled, or exploded with growth. As a matter of fact our weekly attendance is down around 10% from where we were a year ago. I could cite all kinds of statistics about joblessness (Douglas County Oregon’s unemployment rate is 10.1% for Feb. 2014) and the economic hardships families in our county experience. I could tell you that our school district enrollment has declined about 30% over the last 10 years…and on and on I could go. But I will leave those numbers and their analysis to others.
What I do know from over two decades of ministry in Southern, rural Oregon is that small churches are truly the backbone of our community. Our church will host VBS (and two other churches of different denominations will collaborate with us- sending workers and children) and WorldChangers (which also requires the working together of several small churches).
I honestly don’ expect a small church pastor to be elected as President of the SBC, but I would like to see more than just lip service paid to valuing small churches. Perhaps a small church pastor could be invited to speak at the SBC Pastor’s Conference (not just one whose church has exploded with stupendous growth). Perhaps more articles in BAPTIST PRESS could focus on the value of small churches and the role they play in their communities.
I do believe in church growth. I pray for our church to grow…to impact more people with the gospel, to see more people follow Jesus in baptism, to see more disciples in turn make more disciples. I also know that without a stable job market young families are not interested in locating in small rural communities like mine. I also know that reaching older adults, though a challenge, is also a genuine joy. I also know that many of the families that remain in small rural communities are fractured in significant ways and churches have a powerful ministry in their lives that may never be reflected in the Annual Church Profile.
I will continue to pray for growth in my church. I will also continue to call attention to small churches and the invaluable role they can play in their communities.