Numbers Don’t Tell the Story

The Heart of a Small Church: Part 5

“As a small church, the people in it need to believe they have a purpose in this vast kingdom of God and your wanting to feature us in an article is a gift from God,” wrote Pastor Janet Boyd when she was approached to write this article. 

By Pastor Janet Boyd*

Just north of our church building where we worship, the Mulhall Family Farm Barn still stands. The founding members of Bigelow United Methodist Church met there for weekly worship. The first sermons were written, and delivered at the family barn in 1824. The postal address of Bigelow UMC, which is Big Prairie, OH, reflects the setting that surrounds us.

Bigelo church members in sanctuary

Bigelow UMC is about as traditional a church as any rural church in the East Ohio Conference. We begin worship each Sunday in the same way as worship has always begun for many, many years. The congregation is a small group with a regular worship attendance of 15 members. Most are retired blue-collar workers, farmers, business owners, and we are proud to have a World War II veteran attend every Sunday as well. The average age of our faithful is 70+ years old, but, as the saying goes, “age is just a number.” There is a lot more to these folks than meets the eye.

Along with being a pastor, I am a special education teacher of children ages 3-5. I have learned that a disability is just a different method for learning. I also believe I minister in a very unique style due to the fact that I am actively ministering to two very different age groups on the developmental continuum.  My daily life with preschoolers is life in its most vibrant form; exhaustingly alive!  However, the wisdom and experience I receive from my parishioners is evidence of lives well-lived.  I am the favored recipient of the balance of extremes.

As for nurturing growth in a church such as this, I am invested in the belief that God is a Gardener.  He is in the process of planting the seeds for the harvest of righteousness which is on His timetable.  We all know, He doesn’t wear a watch!

It all started in the summer of 2017

Just a short year ago, seeds were planted when we heard the difficult story of a young woman. She did not speak of her difficulty while telling us of the commitment she had to a local youth program (we do not have a youth program – obviously – we have no youth!)  She spoke on behalf of the many others in the program who needed an opportunity to attend summer camp. We responded with the generous offering of sending three youth members to camp.  One of the recipients of the offering was that young woman.

Fast forward ahead to this past summer in 2018. Several members and I participated in a Bible Study on spiritual gifts.  We learned as new creatures in Christ we have been given gifts of grace. As a result of these gifts we learned of the grace our individual life stories provide. Our stories provide a foundation from which to begin to build a relationship with God.  The next stage in this life of a believer is crucial to our faith development – to step out in faith and to share the things that God has done for us, changing the focus of our lives.

Our discussions centered on the definition of ministry to include the concept of ministry being a ‘hand-up’ to others rather than a simple hand-out.  As we were soon to experience, the Spirit of God often moves in mysterious ways.

The Hand-up

My adult daughter was a volunteer in the local youth program in which our young friend was a member.  Their relationship was much like the positive influence of a more mature person toward the younger person spoken of in Titus 2:1-15  (I preached on this passage of scripture and the exegesis of the passage of scripture is as follows: Faithfully practice making Christianity attractive through your loving devotion to God.Our young friend graduated, and my daughter married this summer.  Each faced a huge life transition, particularly our young friend who was moving away from home for the very first time. She had been accepted with scholarship monies to attend Indiana Wesleyan University.  I knew the young woman’s transition must be one supported by the family of God.  We needed to use our gifts of grace in support of one who needed us.  Finally, and most importantly from a pastoral perspective, I knew our people needed a purpose.  As a small church, the people in it need to believe they have a purpose in this vast kingdom of God.

Our young friend’s dad had died this past year of a drug overdose. Her mother was not in a financial position to support her in this huge stride towards college.  So we stepped in and stepped up.

Throughout the month of July the “band of 15” plus pastor and friends collected gift cards for the supplies, necessities and accessories that any young college person would need. We also provided a new laptop and printer to help secure her success.

As I stood in the computer store with our young friend, my daughter, and another young woman from our church I noticed her expression.  I asked her later what she was thinking.  She responded, “no one has ever treated me this way before.”

On the final Sunday before her departure to college we invited her to church for a well-deserved send-off. At the end of the service, she and another young woman, a member’s daughter who was returning for another year of college, were called up to be acknowledged and presented with gifts. All members worshipping that day all came forward to lay hands on our young friends.

It is fair to stop a moment and give a focus on a past prayer moment.  Three years ago I invited members forward to pray for our members’ daughter as she was entering college, only a few members participated.

This time, with walkers and canes, all worshipers came forward to invest in this opportunity as presented by the Spirit of God.  There were not many dry eyes as we prayed to ask for God’s presence and support in the lives of these two courageous people.

Our young friend is in college now.  We will continue to be encouragers to her in this journey.

But there is one more moment to share in this story of God’s grace. There was almost an element of prophecy embedded in all of the events as they unfolded over those past several weeks.

During Annual Conference at Lakeside, two members of our church, a couple, attended the conference as lay delegates. We sat together during the many meetings and listened to the many messages.  Weeks had gone by since we had attended the conference. We were wrapping up the final Thursday of our recent Bible Study.

“Any final thoughts?” I asked.

The husband of the lay delegate couple responded, “Yes. I have been sitting here with the phrase ‘making disciples for the transformation of the world’ running through my thoughts. That is what we are doing for that young woman.”

My addition to that statement would be: that is what WE are doing, in response to God’s call on our lives, for a young woman who was put in our path.

Changing directions

As for the question of where do I think our church is going?  We are in the process of planning a commemorative service at the Legion to honor our veterans.  I am thinking this is a direction in which we can actually go and reach out rather than to sit and wait.

To God be the Glory!

*Janet Boyd is pastor of Bigelow United Methodist Church, Three Rivers District, Holmes County. 

Whether in a quaint, rural setting or in a bustling, ever-changing urban area, every church has a unique story to tell. Each works within its own story-line and parameters with its blessings and challenges.

Stay tuned for The Heart of a Small Church Part 6: Together We are Stronger – Churches of the Beaver Creek Cluster

Merging of Two Denominations – a Selfless Act

The Heart of a Small Church: Part 4

Federated churches have their beginnings in the early part of the 20th century and reached their zenith in the period from around 1915-1940.  Federated churches involve forming a local church congregation that relates to two or more denominations, with members each deciding to which of the denominations they choose to belong.  (See ¶208 of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2016).

Here in East Ohio the combos have been United Methodist and either Presbyterian Church U.S.A., United Church of Christ, or Congregational Church. There are five Federated Churches in the East Ohio Conference.

Chatham Community Federated Church

By Pastor Patty Humphress*

Photo of both Chatham churchesIt is hard to have two churches within a quarter mile of each other in a small town. Many of our small towns have the same problem, and with dwindling attendance, the situation sometimes feels hopeless. Chatham looked at the situation differently. In the late 1980’s, the Chatham United Methodist Church and the Chatham United Church of Christ Congregational decided it was time to be a true community.

Even though the two churches would have liked to remain separate entities, they recognized community resources would be thin. That is truer even today. Chatham, like most small towns, is losing its younger people to opportunities beyond the township and even the state. Here is an ebb and flow of membership as Chatham is a very stable, non-transient area. We are surrounded by bigger churches and yet maintain our big hearts to do more and be more.

The Work of Becoming a Federated Church

It was a long thought-out process meant to unite the community to do greater service for God. Part of the work that needed to be done was writing a constitution that embraced both UMC and UCC polity.

Although there is not a huge difference in the belief system, there are some areas where the two denominations disagree, including the issue of ordaining practicing homosexuals. The differences at times will allow the church to be open in dialogue; there are very few closed minds as they have been together for so long and are part of the same community family.

In April, 1991, they merged together into a Federated Church, alternating between a UMC pastor and a UCC pastor.

“I remember the merger as a time when people gradually came to the conclusion that neither denomination could afford to exist as separate entities. It required a great deal of compromise on the part of both denominations, because of the differences in the way the two denominations are structured.

The UCC building was locally owned while the Methodist building was owned by the Methodist conference.

Methodist ministers are appointed while UCC minsters are called. The Methodist church has apportionments while in the UCC the local church determines what it gives.

The merger was also difficult, because for many people there were strong family ties to one or the other buildings. I think this has lessened as new people without these ties have joined the church. It took time and compromise on many people’s part to make it work. I’m sure glad it has.”

Carol Menon, Chatham Community Federated Church Treasurer, UCC member

But what to do with the two 150+ year old buildings? Initially the churches bounced back and forth for worship services. Ultimately, they settled into the congregational building that features a larger sanctuary. The Methodist Church was eventually turned into an outreach center.

Today’s Church

There are about 150 members of Chatham Community Church. Our average worship attendance runs around 55. The membership of the church contains about an equal number of UMC and UCC people, plus a third category of people who did not declare to which denomination they wanted to belong. Many still cling to their denominational roots. In fact, last fall one UMC member passed away and it was her wish that she be buried out of the United Methodist Church building, which is our outreach center. Having said that though, the church is very united in their mission to worship, fellowship, and serve God together.

It seems many who did not claim denominational status in the UMC or UCC churches no longer attend. I think that’s an interesting fact. These who came in under non-declared status came in under one or two pastors. Those who are strongly denominational were not in favor of this, fearing that the church and might become nondenominational.

“I believe that it has been good for both churches otherwise one church would have had to close. It has been a lot of work on everyone. Everyone didn’t think that the merger would work, but it did. I think it has to do with the attitude of the people. We all have worked hard to make our church what it is.”

Rosalie VanGilder, church member, UMC member.

The Community Knows We Care

The congregation is wonderfully involved in outreach ministries. About five years ago, Alcoholics Anonymous asked if they could begin meeting in the church. Despite some misgivings by the Board of Administrators, they unanimously agreed to let the group begin meeting there, and it has blessed the congregation and the community immensely.

We are also blessed to be part of the ministries of Matthew 25, of St. Herman’s House of Hospitality, of the Medina County Community Services Center, and of the local veterans’ homes. Our mission is to be God-centered, sharing the love of Jesus through worship, fellowship, and service. Because of this, we are a small church with a big heart to serve God and community.

We gather local children together around Christmas to share a make-it-take-it wood project they can take home and give as a gift or keep for themselves. Each Christmas season we put on a Journey to Bethlehem which takes people from the prophecy of the birth of Jesus to the stable. Live animals enhance the journey, and each year nearly 100 people come and walk through in the space of two hours. Nearly everyone in the church participates to bring the Good News to people who come from miles away – rain, ice, or snow.

As with many older congregations, Chatham Community Church is built on tradition and the community Memorial Day Parade offers yet another opportunity to be involved with the community. Two new members have joined the church simply because volunteers who do not walk in the parade stand in front of the church with cold water for parade participants.

The community trick-or-treat always is also treat for our volunteers who dress up, sit in front of the church, and pass out candy. The cool thing is every kid and parent gets a treat after they walk up the front steps of the church. If someone is not able to climb the steps, the volunteers go down, offering hot cider and other treats.

Last but certainly not least, did I mention the famous Chatham Apple Butter Festival, now celebrating its 50th year? Yes – and put on by the Community Church that cares. It is a cornucopia of deliciousness! Apple Butter is made on the premises and served on fresh, hot biscuits. Served is a full lunch and dinner menu featuring our homemade bean soup and chili, as well as the best donuts ever – made fresh hourly. Bluegrass music and Celtic music fill the air. A magician, birds of prey, and play area allow kids to be just kids. Crafters and picture opportunities are in autumn abundance. (on a side note, when I was a child, I attended this festival every year with my mom – so much fun!)

For the last few years, the staff, which includes just about everyone who attends Chatham Church as well as their family members, all wear Chatham Church apparel. No one can fail to recognize the Apple Butter Festival as a church event, something I failed to note as a youth. We now invite people to church and interact with the larger community as we share smiles and love with the attendees.

A Matured Church

There have been difficult times, to be sure. A gentleman once told me he wondered who would be the last one left to lock the doors for a final time. And just when I stood in front of the church and said that it was okay that we were a middle-aged church, when we thought no new children would grace our doorstep, we did a prayer walk around the community and five new children started attending! God works in mysterious and wonderful ways.

The guiding motto of Chatham Community Federated Church is “Joined in the Spirit” I believe this was a great marriage that has matured the faith of both denominations. We are truly joined in the Spirit and continue to feel the presence of the Spirit in our midst. We laugh together, cry together, and praise God together, because we believe God is good … all the time.

*Patty Humphress is pastor of the Chatham Community Federated Church in Medina, OH (Chatham Township, Firelands District)

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.

Stay tuned for The Heart of a Small Church Part 5: Age is Just a Number – Bigelow United Methodist Church

A Three Point Ministry Team, an Interesting Relationship

The Heart of a Small Church: Part 3

The Three Point Team vision stemmed from Judy Claycomb, former Firelands District Superintendent, during her last full year on the district. Claycomb had noted the need to provide gifted pastoral leadership for several of her smaller congregations throughout her district. She envisioned a partnership of churches (in this case three churches including Fitchville) who could benefit from the experience and gifts of an ordained Elder who had a passion to be in ministry with small congregations and their communities, one who could support the ministry of part-time local pastors or lay servant ministries. Each congregation could have someone to lead worship and provide other ministry with the churches to their respective communities. Rev. Doug Lewis, current Firelands District Superintendent, has continued to support this vision. The result – Rev. Tim McCollum (ordained Elder) was appointed as lead pastor of a Three Point Ministry Team -three churches, one team.

An Interesting Relationship

By Rev. Timothy McCollum*

Fitchville UMC
Fitchville UMC

Fitchville UMC is located out in the midst of farm country. While there are a few dozen houses close to the church itself, it is only a short distance in any direction to the rolling fields with both crops and livestock in abundance. The farmer mentality shapes our community and our church. In many ways, people are self-sufficient. And, at the same time, people know how important it is to watch over others. Some aspects of the community have changed, like the local school closing. But we are working to use technology and community connections to better reach out with wider arms into our community. Doing what we can to provide for the needs of others is still part of who we are. Learning to do so in ways that bring people into Christ’s loving arms is part of who we are becoming.

I lead a three point ministry team, with each church having its own pastor.

Fitchville UMC is also connected to the New Haven and North Fairfield UMCs. This has been an interesting relationship. It encourages us to find new ways to do church together. At the same time, our three churches are in three different and distinct communities. The normal commonalities that connect us in mission settings aren’t there. But, the connection in shared ministry keeps us bouncing ideas around in hopes of encouraging our churches to Kingdom ministry beyond our local congregations. We have done shared worship services as well as sharing a website at It has taken us a few years to understand what this different type of ministry together looks like, but it is about to start putting some ideas into action and that is exciting.

The 18:20 Collaborative

We believe that the work of God’s Kingdom is bigger than any single church. We also believe that working together we can accomplish far more than working alone. Matthew 18:20 reminds us that where two or three are gather, Christ is there.

New Haven UMC
New Haven UMC (Photo by Kevin Casto)

New Haven UMC

The New Haven UMC has had a challenging summer walking through some of Wesley’s historic sermons in their Sunday school class with Pastor Bob James. They have pushed people out of the comfort zones and it will be interesting to see where it leads next. As the church works to reshape itself in the image of Christ, things like the prayer garden which was built last year are a very public expression of the church’s commitment to God and the community.

Pastor Bob James comments:

“We celebrated 200 years as a church last year with the opening of the prayer garden that Tim mentioned.  The parsonage is used as an art gallery open to the community.  The Art Junction is a community-based art education program designed to bring gallery space, local art exhibitions, lessons and creative opportunities to the area for adults, teens, seniors, and children to learn to create together a better community. Kevin Casto, the church lay leader, director of The Art Junction, is also the elementary art teacher and has many community programs.  The church is very dedicated to our community and is active in many of our local community outreach programs.

Tim also mentioned the Wesley Sunday school study.  I think it is important to understand our “roots” as Methodists in order to make decisions about our future.  The study was well attended and was a huge success and the attendees have a better understanding of what it means to be a Methodist beyond coming here to church because my parents did.  Overall this is a caring congregation that is very active in the life of the people around us.”

North Fairfield UMC
North Fairfield UMC

North Fairfield UMC

At North Fairfield UMC, Pastor Sara Englet has been working with the church as they develop key relationships with their community and especially their local school. Within the past year, they have focused on providing “Fifth Quarter” events that give young people someplace to hang out and something to do after football games. In addition, even as the church “ages” they are hearing the sounds of young people in worship and it is uplifting the shared heart of the church.

Pastor Sara Englet comments:

“One of the biggest challenges of being a bi-vocational pastor with a family and a full-time job is getting connected with the congregation and the community in meaningful ways, even when time is limited. This is one of the reasons that our Fifth Quarter events are so meaningful. These events provide a dedicated time when members of our church family can connect with one another and with the young people in our community.  I think that it is important to make the most of our ministry time and not just “do church” for the sake of doing church. Each opportunity that the congregation has to be in touch with our community makes a difference in someone’s life. We are learning through this ministry that our presence makes a difference!”

The Laity Shine

One of the things we are thankful for as a church is the lay persons who are stepping in to serve. While our church is like many churches, sometimes it seems like a handful of people do most of the work, helping other people find a place to join in has been a focus and a challenge for us this year. None of the things we do can be done without the lay people in our churches, even in simple ways. Allow me to share an example.

A few years ago, we started doing quarterly meals as community outreach. Well, we didn’t define outreach well or what it means to do outreach together. And at the first meal, only a handful of outsiders showed up who needed something to eat. Since then, we regularly remind folks that doing outreach well isn’t about providing for needs, providing for needs is about building relationships. Now, when we do outreach events, many of our church members show up just to share tables with others in our community. And when people from the community come, they often sit down with people from our church they already know. Building these relationships takes time, but it’s something everyone can do.

Our ministry collaborative shares in different communities and leadership but with the same goal – to change hearts, minds, and communities for Christ.

*Rev. Timothy McCollum is pastor of Fitchville UMC.

Read previous article, Part 2, to learn more about 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. We’re looking to continue this popular series on small churches. What is your defining story? Contact us @

Stay tuned for The Heart of a Small Church Part 4: Two Denomination Churches Become One – Chatham Community, a Federated Church