The Heart of a Small Church – Part 2
By Rev. Timothy McCollum
Fitchville UMC (Firelands District) is a small church on Rt. 250 about halfway between Ashland and Norwalk. Many folks have driven by it, few have stopped. This is farm county, so it can feel spread out and sparse, besides one other church and a gas station. Our entire township has a population of just over 500. Our church has just about 50 attendees on most Sundays and I’m blessed to serve this church that is often trusting and often willing to see where God is leading. It didn’t start out this way, but God has been working on us together. And after a few years down the road, the church has been experiencing God in some interesting ways. But, that doesn’t really tell the story of our summer…
By early spring this year, I was looking forward with both anticipation and anxiety about where our little church would be heading.
It has been a really different year for us.
In the spring, we rolled out our spiritual formation pathway with a preaching series that took us through the entire Easter season. It took us almost 18 months to put that together, and now it’s real.
Then, summer hit.
And, that’s where things became interesting.
We spent the entire first part of the year working through Richard Foster’s book “Prayer” in our Sunday small group. It has been changing the way we pray. Moving from prayer to the Holy Spirit using “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan is further opening our hearts to chase where God is leading.
This summer, we preached through a sermon series based around the 12 Steps that are used in programs like AA. We had three couples that started attending during that series, each with their own stories, and each have been moved by what’s been taking place. I can actually remember one Sunday seeing a young man looking uncomfortable in the pews, only to find out later that God was speaking to him directly that day.
This year our church became the primary sponsor for the New London High School Cross Country camp.
One day, while talking with Keith Landis, the coach of the high school cross country team, we found out that there used to be a yearly cross country camp. Coach Landis mentioned how he missed the camp, that it was a real blessing to the team. He said that school insurances and coverage issues simply made it too difficult to continue the camp. The church jumped in and said, “What if the church was the sponsor? We have insurance, and we could use it as an outreach to interact with the team. We could even help provide meals!”
Next thing you know, we were sponsoring a local Cross Country camp with 30 kids and eight adults. Eight church members helped open the camp with the first meal of the week along with leading devotions. They made a point of sitting with teens they didn’t know during the meal – all of a sudden, one of the teens who was not regularly part of our youth was heading to Alive with our youth group.
Did I mention it was our first year going to Alive?
It’s been a year in which one of our youth gave their life to Christ and another, who had avoided youth activities, committed to participate in our youth group more often.
And then, just like every other summer, Vacation Bible School happened. We were concerned about low attendance, as many churches have been struggling. But, we were praying. The Sunday before our week started, we became aware that three other local community churches would be hosting their VBS the same week. By the end of the week, we realized that were actually five VBS programs in the area that week. But we had been praying. We had committed to trust God on the matter. And we were overwhelmed. By the second day, we were trying to find extra adults to help. Our VBS that had averaged 35 in 2017 had grown to 50 in 2018.
Before the summer is over, we are hosting a Prayer Walk through our local school building on Sunday, August 26, two days before classes officially begin. We have posted it as an event on Facebook. The stats came in, and our Facebook reach had grown by 46,000% by Facebook’s calculation. It just makes me chuckle to read that. We went from one person reached to 460.
Yet, none of this has been us. We’ve had a part, but God has been the greater part. The Holy Spirit is running amok at Fitchville UMC and we have had so many people be a part of it. We are amazed at what God is doing. We will soon be headed into our fall season, which we know will slow down to more comfortable routines. But we continue to pray that the Spirit of God will continue his transforming work in us and in our community.
We didn’t start out this way together, but this is where we are now. And we are eager to see what’s next.
*Rev. Timothy McCollum is pastor of Fitchville UMC.
Whether in a quaint, rural setting or in a bustling, ever-changing urban area, every church has a unique story to tell. Each works with its own story-line and parameters with its blessings and challenges.
East Ohio Conference is seeking to find more defining stories among our churches. What is yours? Contact us @ firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay tuned for The Heart of a Small Church Part 3: A Three Point Ministry Team, An Interesting Relationship