“When the call comes for our disaster team to go, we’ll be ready,” says Butch Porch, a member of Woodland Baptist Church in Brownsville, Tennessee.
Porch helps organize members of area Baptist churches who serve on Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams. Wes Jones, Disaster Relief specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, knows he can count on Woodland members and other west Tennessee churches.
“Wherever there are hurricanes, floods, ice storms or tornadoes, I contact our team and we head out,” Porch said.
Beyond the soybeans, cornfields
Woodland is a rural church surrounded by fields of cotton, soybeans and corn. One of the oldest congregations in west Tennessee, the church was established by Obadiah Dodson and other early settlers in the 1820s. The present sanctuary was completed in 1920 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
Small membership churches constitute the majority of Southern Baptist congregations. According to LifewayResearch.com, churches in the U.S. that have between 51 to 100 in attendance make up 27.4%; those with 50 or fewer make up 39.9%. But those small congregations are doing great things for Christ.
Before COVID-19, Woodland was running about 70 in Sunday School. Like many other churches, the pandemic has affected attendance; but ministry continues.
Unique ways ‘small churches’ serve others
“The impact of small churches is more personal in ministry — giving to people in their community,” said Randy Kellough, Woodland pastor. “They assist in giving food and money for immediate needs and respond more efficiently.”
He believes Woodland will never be a large congregation — but the church can still do great things in the eyes of the community and in service.
There are many unique ways small churches like Woodland can serve:
- Disaster Relief teams. The Woodland team has volunteered some 100 times to aid victims of natural disasters. Tasks include flood recovery and cutting trees and limbs after ice storms and tornadoes. They pray with victims and present them with a Bible; a chaplain is part of each team.
- Building ramps. In 2013, the Woodland Brotherhood ministry felt called to provide ramps for the wheelchair-bound, and has since built about 200 of them. They rely on community “stew sales” and local donations; grants from area businesses also help. Most of those in need can’t afford to purchase materials or pay for labor so the Woodland Brotherhood volunteers time and materials.
- Work day. Two or three times a year Woodland has a “work day,” which includes cleaning up the grounds, cleaning the kitchen, polishing pews, organizing storage and other “housekeeping.”
- Caring for the elderly and shut-ins. Members know a crew from the church will be there for them in times of need.
- Senior trips. Once a month the seniors load up the church bus and take a day trip to an interesting place or restaurant.
- Umbrella brigade. On rainy Sunday mornings, men are on standby with umbrellas to keep people dry.
- Parking vehicles. Members using a walker or cane pull up to the front of the church knowing someone will help them out and park their car.
- Recognizing first responders. As church members catch fish, they freeze them until there is enough for a fish fry, to which they invite firefighters, the police department and sheriff’s office.
- Shoebox ministry. Each month specific items are collected for Samaritan’s Purse, an organization that provides Christmas gifts to children throughout the world.
- Visiting nursing homes/assisted living centers. Children and youth provide mission programs in area centers, and during the Christmas season they go caroling.
- Pastor Appreciation Sunday. Last October, children presented a scrapbook that included drawings of “Why I love my pastor.”
- Sunday morning breakfast. Once a quarter the church’s Brotherhood ministry prepares breakfast for the congregation.
- Men’s breakfasts. The men of the church gather at a local restaurant on the third Saturday of every month to eat together, fellowship and pray.
- Women’s missions. Woman’s Missionary Union meets monthly for fellowship and a program on missions. Women’s luncheons also are held frequently.
- Fifth Sunday lunch. Christian fellowship is central to a church, and a potluck meal is enjoyed every fifth Sunday after the worship service.
- Children’s Christmas program. With a small church, all children can participate in the annual Christmas program, drawing the community as family and neighbors come to see children act out characters from the Christmas story in Luke 2.
- Youth car wash. Members support youth by bringing their cars to the church parking lot. The youth enjoy washing the cars and raising money for missions.
- Fall festival. The community is invited to a “Trunk or Treat” in the church parking lot. Along with candy, pamphlets are distributed with the plan of salvation and an invitation to attend church.
- Welcome mini-baskets. Visitors are presented with a small gift bag.
Regardless of the size of your church, you can do great things for the Kingdom. Instead of focusing on size, ask: Is your church healthy?