God Loves Small-Town Churches
Rev. Tony Cooke
Of course, God loves churches wherever they are located, but these past two weekends I’ve had the privilege of ministering in churches in two small towns.
Superior, Nebraska – Population 1,784
Custer, South Dakota – Population 1,915
Something I noticed about both congregations (Living Faith Fellowship and Living Outreach Church) was the warmth and fellowship among the members of the congregations. In both places, people lingered and visited for a good while after the dismissal of the services (the homemade cinnamon rolls in the Custer church didn’t hurt).
The two pastors — Jon Albrecht in Nebraska and Joel Ziolkowski in South Dakota — are extremely accessible and proactive in greeting and visiting with the people. They both pastor relationally and their love for the people is obvious. The personal touch each of these pastors provides reminded me of David and Jesus in the Bible, who were said to “go in and out amongst the people” (1 Samuel 18:16; Acts 1:21).
The Nebraska church was founded by Patsy Busey in 1981. Though she transferred pastoral leadership to Jon in 2013, she continues to be a vital part of the church. Joel and his wife, Diana, pioneered the South Dakota church in 1992.
All churches — large or small, urban or rural — are precious to God. Every set of dynamics such as size, demographics, location, etc., presents its own set of challenges and opportunities. I’ve simply been impressed these past few weekends with how people in these churches enjoy and benefit from close-knit fellowship and face-to-face interaction with their friends and their pastors. We should play to our strengths and optimize the opportunities God has provided.
We all love crowds, but we always need to remember that Jesus loves individuals and small groups. We should never get our eyes so fixed on large numbers that we miss the value of one. God’s Son was not born in Rome, nor was he raised in Alexandria (the two largest population centers of the ancient world). Jesus was born and raised in two tiny villages, Bethlehem and Nazareth.
When Micah prophesied that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the Messiah, he said it was “only a small village among all the people of Judah” (Micah 5:2 NLT). Estimates vary, but in Jesus’ day, Bethlehem may have had a population of less than 500. Rick Renner suggests that Nazareth, where Jesus was raised, may have only had a population of 120-150 people. People often look down on small places, and Nathanael even asked if anything good could come out of such a place as Nazareth (John 1:46).
My purpose in writing this is not to elevate churches and pastors in small towns over others, but as a reminder that small does not equate to inferior or to being less pleasing in God’s eyes. What is important is that all of us, regardless of our calling or setting, seek to maximize the potential God has given and express his heart to those in our sphere of influence, using the gifts he has given us. Along these lines, you may want to check out an article I wrote in 2014 called, “When the Call Seems Small.”