Get to know the people in your church and find out what their real needs are—food, clothing or maybe just a smile and a hug.
When Pastor Danny Dunlap talks about how his church is remodeling its “outside” bathroom, he’s quick to explain with a laugh that it’s actually an inside facility with an outside door. He knows the misconceptions that come with a rural Arkansas address.
But while this 126-year-old church might have given up outhouses and hitching posts many years ago, it remains a small congregation. In fact, when Dunlap and wife Carrie arrived to pastor the 75-seat church in 2011, attendance had fallen to six or seven per Sunday. Now that’s up to 24.
“If everyone were here at the same time, we’d have a pretty good group, but some miss here and there, and so the number fluctuates,” Dunlap says. “Even though our numbers have increased 400 percent, that’s still not a huge amount of people, but we are back to holding our own financially.”
With a population of about 520, Traskwood is in central Arkansas 35 miles southwest of Little Rock. While Traskwood tends to be a sleepy town, nearby Haskell has 4,000 residents and is growing due to employment opportunities. Dunlap, 65, decided to focus on a six-mile radius for outreach, making his own fliers and going door to door to invite people to church.
“We can’t do a high-dollar advertising campaign, so we go and invite. It’s not expensive, but it is time-consuming,” he says.
So far the effort has not caught on with the church’s membership, though.
“It’s one of those things that everyone thinks is a good idea, but a lot of people aren’t comfortable with going up to strangers and inviting them to church,” he says. “And it’s not easy, for sure. But I have a real urgency about seeing people turn to the Lord, and that’s what gets me out there.”
Their reluctance to canvass doesn’t mean Traskwood UMC members aren’t reaching out, however. Because the church’s weekly offering isn’t enough to keep it vital, the congregation holds fundraisers such as yard sales to augment its coffers. Much of what is raised is used to help locals who are down on their luck.
“We can’t fund big programs, but we do feel we are called to help people in need. This is not an affluent area, and folks are struggling with their day-to-day existence,” says Dunlap, who works full-time as a wheelchair repairman for a local hospital.
The church’s benevolence draws people to its doors not only for assistance but also to be part of the fellowship, which is known to be close-knit and welcoming.
“Our strongest suit is that we’re a caring and loving church—that’s what people need. We can’t give them a ‘life center’ and a gym, but we can give them love and support in all the ways that really count,” he says.
The congregation is aware that appearances count too. Its first step in improving the church’s curb appeal was installing a sign readable from the road last summer. Next up are repairing the front steps and painting the exterior, and remodeling that bathroom.
That his small but mighty congregation has been able to raise $8,000 for those projects, plus send kids to church camp for the first time and offer financial assistance to locals, shows God is at work in his church, Dunlap says.
“I tell them, ‘You may not realize it but you’ve just been part of a miracle,’” he says.
TRASKWOOD UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Pastor: Danny Dunlap