It’s easy to assume that effective ministry is big ministry. The Church often falls in line with our metrics-of-more culture. We like to measure quantities of people and dollars. And we don’t quite know how to capture other kingdom-of-God qualities.
That’s why this story is so important. Because it highlights one of those kingdom-of-God qualities. And because it’s rooted in a small-setting superpower: Nimbleness. Flexible, light responses. With no heavy baggage.
The events of this story take place in Appalachia. But the setting may sound familiar to your community.
It starts with a building that first housed a small-town Toyota dealership. Then, Christina’s Beauty Shop took over. Followed by Blockbuster. And later Downshift Tattoo Parlor, which Covid shut down.
Meanwhile, a nearby church building began to fall apart. Sag. Rot. Fail. It was unsafe for worship and a food pantry ministry that served about 30 families each month in this rural Kentucky county. Repairs would be too expensive. Rev. Judy recognized matter-of-factly that the property had to be sold. A purchaser promptly bulldozed it–sanctuary and all.
But this isn’t a sad-small-church story.
Rev. Judy knew something else. That a demolished building had absolutely nothing to do with their worship. Or their ministry.
They moved temporarily to a vacant office building. One room for worship. One room for the food pantry. It was crowded and awkward. Like most tent living. They made plans for whatever was next.
But it’s what they didn’t do at that time that is most telling. They didn’t start a building campaign for a lovely new sanctuary. The kind they missed. And longed for.
Instead, they moved the food pantry into the old tattoo parlor. Of course. It was the perfect location for hungry families to pick up groceries each Tuesday. Everyone knew where it was. So they settled in. Like God has settled into neighborhoods for thousands of years.
But the costs were high enough that there was little left for a worship building. And there were still plenty of hungry folks.
So Rev. Judy used what they had to buy a 20-by-20 outdoor carport. For more space to serve up comfort food outside each Tuesday. Not just a handed-off grocery box. But a lingering conversation. A shared meal. Imagine that.
The folks in the community did. The ministry went from serving 30 families to 300 families each month.
But the story was bigger than these numbers. And there was still no sanctuary. So now what?
Rev. Judy’s wisdom was simple. Nimble. And unlikely to show up in a big setting. It went something like this. Well, first we are a worshiping people. Because of that, we also serve. And go wherever we need to serve. Plus we can worship anywhere. That means we can worship where we serve. Right here. Where God wants to be anyway.
So that’s what they did. After the last bowls and boxes go out each week, the small group transforms that car-selling-haircutting-video-watching-tattooing-now-food-pantry space into worship space. Not a hard task, really. It is already holy ground. They are already a tent people. Next week’s boxes are moved against the walls. A work table is draped with a beautiful cloth and a cross. The room trembles with incarnational wonder. And doesn’t need a single pane of stained glass.
It’s the kind of nimble planning that doesn’t show up in official grow-a-church books. But sometimes the Spirit insists on other, unlikely ways. And we need small congregations to watch for these risky, holy opportunities.
Like Abraham and Sarah leaving behind everything they knew just because God said so. Or Peter and partners listening to Jesus and flipping from fishing to something they were completely unqualified for. Or Mary taking on a kind of holy nonsense in a flick of an angel’s wing.
Deft Spirit-led leaps. Nimbleness. Tent living. The kingdom already among us.
Exactly what you are made for.
And thank you for your ministry,