Small Church America: 7th Annual Celebration

Words of encouragement and engaging ideas especially for those who serve the country’s vibrant smaller congregations

Outreach magazine has released the 7th annual special issue celebration of Small Church America (July/August 2015). In 2009’s first installment we wrote, “Across America, smaller congregations are becoming models of innovation, effective community outreach and global vision.” Still true.

Over the years we have celebrated the best in the American small church experience, applauding its diversity, authenticity, creativity and intimacy. We have re-examined “The Equation of Success,” affirming that the church grows in multiples of one. Transformational ministry, at its heart, is an individual proposition, built on highly personal encounters. Perhaps this is why so many leaders even of large churches trace their earliest steps of faith to small church experiences.

We have profiled the small church experience expressed in rural America, in suburbia and in the country’s metropolitan centers. We have poked our editorial heads into small churches catering to cowboys, talking to truckers, hangin’ with surfers, baptizing bikers, loving outcasts and redeeming whole neighborhoods.

Remarkable things are happening in Small Church America.

We know too that the experience can be lonely and discouraging.

This year we teamed with four friends—Karl Vaters, Chuck Warnock, Dave Jacobs and Peyton Jones—each in their own way champions of the small church experience. They gave invaluable input and connected us with a number of you who shared your insights and told your stories.

As we read your candid comments in “I Wish I’d Known” we reflected on how we’re all in this together. That story became for us—and may also become for you—a prayer guide as we share one another’s concerns and ministry journey.

“Overcoming Obstacles: Stories of Creativity and Resilience on the Small Church Journey” reads as one more reminder that innovation and courageous ministry are still very much alive in Small Church America.

And The Outreach Interview with Hugh Halter sheds light on what it means to live incarnationally, and to consciously choose grace over judgmentalism.

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As you read this issue you’ll find much more to encourage and inspire you as you faithfully serve in whatever place and circumstance God has called you.

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Quotable From This Issue …

Dan Kimball on “A Small Church Welcome” that changed his life forever
“The pastor, who was 82 years old, looked up with a twinkle-eyed glance and asked, ‘Here for the study?’ and I couldn’t say no. So I sat down, without them judging me for my hair, my clothing or my punk band lifestyle. They took me into their small church community and my life was changed as a result.”

Karl Vaters on the privilege of a small church pastorate, in “I Wish I’d Known …”
“There have always been small churches. And they have always been the vast majority. Healthy, vibrant, outward-reaching small churches have been the primary way the church has grown for the last 2,000 years. Maybe that’s not a problem. Maybe small churches are God’s idea, not our failure. Instead of making pastors feel guilty that they didn’t ‘make it’ when they pastor a small church, we need to tell them what I was never told: We can pastor our small churches well—without settling for less.”

Ed Stetzer explains “3 Reasons for Church Membership”
“Individualist Christianity is a myth and a damaging pursuit. At the end of the day we’re redeemed. We’re placed in the body. The Bible specifically says he has redeemed us. He has transferred us, Colossians 1 says, from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Son he loves. A kingdom has a king. The king has subjects and his kingdom has a community together where we function as God’s people.”

Bobby Gruenewald on the encouraging possibilities when we “Fight Fear With Change”
“When it’s part of our culture, change becomes our organizational pulse. We change, and we change, and we change again. A culture of change creates an environment where impatience, fear and feeling overwhelmed have trouble taking hold.”

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Brad Powell on “Transitioning a Small Church”
“Everything rises and falls on leadership. One person can’t transition anything, but one person can be a catalyst for getting a transition started.”

Kevin Cox talks about multiplying churches in “A Larger View of the Kingdom”
“Through his Word and godly mentors, the Holy Spirit overwhelmed me with the heart knowledge that my identity is based on the truth that I am a son of the eternal Father. I didn’t need to feel pressure to impress the Father to gain his attention, recognition or approval. He finds pleasure in me simply because I am his son. At this moment, I knew we were ready to multiply. It would be his kingdom that we would extend and his alone.”

Hugh Halter on grace, truth and living as Christ did, in “The Interview: Better Than Brimstone”
“Jesus was the most holy and most righteous person to ever walk on planet Earth, yet he also walked without judgment and without self-righteousness. I want people to simply think about that. I think it profound, and must be the new framework by which we see our place in trying to straighten out this crooked and depraved generation. As the scriptures say, we will shine like stars in the universe—if we can find this balance Jesus did. He showed that incarnation is the way to change the world, one person at a time. And he showed that grace and truth can be embodied together. People do want grace, and they also want truth. They just want truth to come from a friend, not an adversary.”

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