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Thursday, April 27, 2006

It CAN be Done! Rural Church Thrives!

Ruralchurch GOODMAN, Mo. (BP)-- Splitlog Baptist Church sits in the extreme southwest corner of Missouri, near the Oklahoma and Arkansas borders, and the members there have managed to do what many churches struggle to accomplish. They’ve turned their focus to Kingdom growth, and God is bringing people to faith in Jesus through their efforts in a rural community.

Chadd Pendergraft, pastor of Splitlog, said the church began shifting its focus about a year and a half ago, and since January 2005 they’ve baptized more than 60 people.

“It was something that God burdened my heart with, that focusing upon church growth only is almost becoming an idolater because our churches can become a whole lot more about us than they are about God,” Pendergraft told Baptist Press. “I think often as pastors we get caught up in growing our own little kingdom rather than growing God’s Kingdom.”

Pendergraft said he was encouraged to attend the launch of the Southern Baptist Convention’s “‘Everyone Can!’ Kingdom Challenge” for evangelism in Nashville last June because it let him know that in Bobby Welch the convention has a president who is urging churches to get out of their comfort zones and do something.

“That’s been a breath of fresh air to me as a pastor,” he said of the initiative Welch has led for Southern Baptist churches to baptize 1 million people during the current church year.

Pendergraft said he has discovered that getting people to focus on the Kingdom rather than just their local church stretches them -- and stretches him.

“When people start doing tasks outside the walls of the church in a way that won’t necessarily benefit them -- doing ministry to where we don’t get money from it, we don’t get members from it, but just doing ministry because that’s what God’s called us to -- it’s been one of the most exciting things I’ve ever witnessed in my life,” he said.

Church members recently have caught on to the idea that God has made them for something other than to warm a pew each week, Pendergraft said, and “folks are stepping up to the plate and fulfilling their mission in life.”

Splitlog sits in the spot where four rural roads come together, the pastor said, and was established in 1933 by a small group of women who had a passion to see a Baptist church in their community where an evangelical witness was lacking.

In 2001, not long after he became pastor of Splitlog, Pendergraft went on a mission trip to the Ukraine, and he said it was the first time the congregation had ever sent anyone anywhere in the world for short-term missions.

“God began through that to birth a passion in me to lead our church to embrace the world as our mission field, and we went from there in 2001 to last year sending about 50 people on mission projects outside Missouri,” Pendergraft said, adding that the church averages between 220 and 250 in attendance now.

Locally, the church is involved in servant evangelism such as passing out free bottles of water at community events.

“Our church has become known as the water church in the summertime because we show up everywhere with bottles of water to give away free,” the pastor said.

Last summer, organizers of a particular event even called the church weeks before to ask them not to give away water, lest it diminish sales of vendors who looked to profit from folks’ thirst.

“To some degree that was an aggravating thing, but also it was a flattering thing,” Pendergraft said, noting that the organizers knew the church’s reputation and contacted them before the church even planned to pass out water at the event.

Another outreach is the “firewood ministry.” Church members canvass the community on Saturdays, looking for homes with chimneys, and then they stop and ask if the residents would like to receive free firewood.

“We basically say to them, ‘We want to show you the love of Christ in a practical way,’” Pendergraft said. “One of the things that has also been neat is there are some folks who have really nice homes and can afford to buy all the wood they need, but we’re giving it to them as well to show them that we’re not here with a hand out, saying, ‘Come give to us,’ but we want to add to their life as well.”

There’s no precise method for determining whether the church membership roll has benefited from the servant evangelism, the pastor said, but that’s not exactly the goal.

“I think absolutely God has blessed that and we’ve seen some growth from it, but that’s one of the things that has been an encouraging thing to me: Our people’s mindset is not that we’re doing something because we want people to come to our church and tithe,” he said. “We’re doing this because we really want to minister to people, whether they ever come to our church or not. That’s really an exciting thing to see happen.”

Seeing members of his church take on the challenge and become soul-winners themselves has become one of the most rewarding parts of his job, Pendergraft told BP.

“They understand that they’re equipped to do so much more than just bring their neighbors to see the pastor and hear about Jesus, but they can tell them about Christ,” he said. “I think that’s one of the keys to seeing the baptisms and the growth that’s going on at our church. Some of our folks are stepping up and sharing their faith.”

Considering all the churches in the world God has at His disposal to accomplish big things for His Kingdom, Pendergraft said, “I think it’s just like God to show up in an unknown place and use an unknown people and an unknown pastor ... and do a work like He’s doing here.

“When He does, He gets the glory for it. There’s no way anybody could show up here and blame what’s happening on me because I’m so far in over my head as a pastor that if God quits me now I’m a sunk ship,” he added. “I just couldn’t make it another day as a pastor without Him, and I’m just amazed that God is letting me in on what He’s doing here.”

A similar work is happening at another small, rural church where Pendergraft recently preached a revival in St. Joseph, Mo. The church is 13 miles out of town but saw more than 250 in attendance on just one night of the revival, he said. People were saved and lives were rededicated to Christ.

“I’m seeing God doing some things in some of these little old churches that nobody knows about, but He sure does,” Pendergraft said. “I’m humbled that the God of heaven would choose to allow me to be right smack dab in the middle of it, so I’m praying every day that I don’t mess up what He’s got going.”

FOR DISCUSSION:  This church makes an interesting case study?  Why is it growing (against all odds)?  Is it the leadership?  Is it the passion of the people?  Is it just a unique moving of God? What, if anything, can we learn from Splitlog Baptist?

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April 27, 2006 in Leadership Issues | Permalink

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Comments

Wow! Praise God! I love to see this kind of thing and hear reports like this. It's what the church should be about, I think. Question: How can this be multiplied...without a "Splitlog Church Conference on Practical Evangelism"? MMI, I think, is one great way. Let's get this word spread to all those other sites that pastors frequent, so a thousand church leaders see it and learn from it.

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Apr 27, 2006 11:38:10 AM

Do you know why they are doing so well?

Because they are being themselves and connecting to their community. They are relevant.

I saw the same thing when I was a kid in my old home church. We connected to the community, showing Christ's love. The excitement of God was in the air. I miss those days...

Posted by: MusicMan | Apr 27, 2006 11:53:23 AM

And along with being relevant, they are focusing on Kingdom work, not "church" work. Their question is not "what can we do to grow our church", but "what can we do to grow God's kingdom".

Posted by: gsmith | Apr 27, 2006 2:23:18 PM

Absolutely!

Posted by: MusicMan | Apr 27, 2006 2:45:48 PM

God specializes in small places!!

Posted by: Mark O. Wilson | Apr 27, 2006 7:01:36 PM

Whew............. Hallelujah.... Yessssssss... Man this has made my day... Oh, wait a minute I'm a baptist, I had better act like one...Just kidding Todd...
Good for them... They are going by faith, and just plan letting God be God. If God is in it, it is not small at all...

Posted by: Clairvoyant 1 | Apr 27, 2006 9:46:51 PM

What a great uplifting post. Having been by this little country church, I am so happy to see the vision that God has given the pastor and the church to reach out to the folks around them. This is a great formula that we can benefit from. I for one will promote these ideas and see what God can do through us.

Posted by: Jay Gainer | Apr 28, 2006 2:06:49 AM

How Refreshing! God truly is on the move in 2006...Nothing like bringing some life
and love into a church..I once heard, "If our church was removed from our community, would the community miss us?" ...Spread the fire and fan the flame Pastor!

Posted by: tammy | Apr 28, 2006 10:39:28 PM

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