March 14, 2013
MAYO (FBC)—The 175 church leaders attending a “Big God, Small Member Church” conference March 2 at Airline Baptist Church in Mayo were challenged to stop looking at the size of their church but rather to focus on the vision and power of the God they serve.
“I believe God loves small churches,” said host pastor Chip Parker. “We have got to stop seeing the size of our church as a limitation but look instead to the God we serve. This conference is about a big God.”
Parker continued: “If we are going to see revival, it will not be in the mega churches. It’s got to start with little churches in little towns.”
The church leaders learned they are the norm rather than the exception in Florida Baptist life, where 85 percent of all churches have 200 or fewer members. Throughout the Florida Baptist convention-sponsored event, they were encouraged, celebrated and given practical helps to implement in their ministry setting.
Keynote speaker Eddie Blalock told participants that size of a congregation is not relevant, “but the size of vision is. God is okay with small churches, but He is not okay with small vision.
“Vision is critical as it lays the ground work and sets the foundation of what He has called us to do,” he said.
The pastor of The Orchard Community Church in Lake City defined vision as “the tension born in the hearts of men and women who cannot accept the status quo. It is having a clear picture of how things are and how they could be, fueled by conviction of how they should be.”
He traced the vision of three Biblical heroes—Nehemiah, Gideon and David—who led groups small in number, yet accomplished great things for God.
Nehemiah’s heart was pricked when he learned the walls of his homeland laid in ruins. He seized a vision to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, not because the walls were in ruins, Blalock explained, but because “the people of God were under reproach. The name of God was being ridiculed and slandered.”
In obedience to God, Gideon culled the number of soldiers ready to battle the 130,000 Midianites from 32,000 to 300 so God could receive glory when a smaller army defeated the larger one.
While no else believed him, David had the vision that he could defeat Goliath, who was ridiculing the people of God, because he knew God was bigger than Goliath.
All churches start as a small church, Blalock told church leaders. “You don’t have to be a mega church. It’s not about packing the seats. It’s about what we are doing for the Kingdom. Small churches have opportunities to do mega things for the Kingdom.”
Tom Kinchen, president of the Baptist College of Florida, reminded participants that every church can receive power as promised by the words of Christ in the Great Commission.
“A big God is seen in small, out of the way churches. I am so glad my God majors on the small things,” Kinchen said. “He didn’t create the world out of small things, He created it out of nothing.”
The college president told the group that God has chosen churches in small towns to change the world. Yet too few pastors choose to claim the power offered to them by God, he said.
“How many are ready to quit when we don’t have large numbers in Sunday School; if we don’t hit our goals?” Kinchen asked.
As he visits churches, Kinchen said what he sees is “tired—tired preaching, tired worship, tired choir and tired leadership.”
And we wonder why the world isn’t beating a path to our doors.
“Jesus didn’t say ‘I am giving you leftovers,’ because all power is given to Him,” Kinchen said. “What He did say is, ‘Go ye therefore.’ All power resides in the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and is made available to the Lord, His people and Kingdom.”
Kinchen urged each to give their best to wherever they have been called to serve.
“There are no second rate churches,” Kinchen said. “If you and I give second rate service it is an abomination before God. He gave his best for every one of us and we are called to give our very best to one of those.”
Throughout the day, small group conferences helped church leaders hone their skills.
Bob Bumgarner, lead strategist of the Convention’s Church Leadership Group, led a conference that provided insights into overcoming typical church growth barriers at 200 and 500 members. He said that among Florida Baptist churches only 5.8 percent have 500 or more members; 12.5 percent have 200-500 members; 85 percent have less than 200 members; and 50 percent of all Florida Baptist churches have a membership of 100 or less.
Steve McHargue, an area representative with Fellowship of Christian Athletes, urged participants to adopt urgency in their outreach efforts. The key to reaching people, he said, is information, which he defined as the Gospel of Jesus Christ, plus relationships, or authentic connections, which leads to transformation. “God called us to be His conduit through relationships,” he added.
Worship is not just about music, said Terry Williams, strategist with the Convention’s Music and Worship Team in a breakout session, it is “about the master of music. We will never fulfill the Great Commission until we understand the two greatest commandments.”
In a conference on preaching, Bill Jenkins, pastor of Sopchoppy Baptist Church, explained that “preaching is communicating the Word of God as divine truth and bringing it to your people.” He cautioned, “They see your life. It doesn’t matter how much you holler on Sunday morning; it’s how you walk on Monday morning.”
Other break-out sessions focused on church conflict, led by Lewis Miller, strategist for the Convention’s Congregational Support Ministries; and church planting led by Rick Lawrence, field missionary for church planting.
Participants in the conference represented nearly 60 churches from 17 associations and included 32 pastors and five associational directors of missions.
Jay Black, pastor of Salem Missionary Baptist Church for the past 12 years, attended the meeting to get pointers on better church organization and effectiveness in reaching the community. The church has hit a plateau, he explained, and at the meeting he discovered insights on how he can get beyond the plateau.
Earl Tuten, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Fort White, came to the conference because his church is in transition. “I want any help I can get to avoid conflict and get new direction in this phase. I want to keep my focus on the Lord, not obstacles.”
Leading pastors and churches in the Gadsden Baptist Association, Howard Adams, director of missions, said church leaders need refreshment and renewal to “continually grow. This has given me insights to help support and encourage the work in our association so I have a strong foundational relationship with our congregations.”
According to Bumgarner, the Cooperative Program-supported conference is the first of several that will be held across the state to specifically help smaller membership churches.