Celebrating the small church

By B.J. Funk

In March of this year, my father-in-law, George Funk, turned 95. His church in the small town of Burlington, Michigan, decided to give him a “This Is Your Life” surprise birthday party. It was a special occasion, not only because of his many years of living, but because Mr. Funk had been in this church since he was three years old! The pastor decided that anyone who has been in the same church for 92 years deserved to be recognized!

The Burlington Church of God gives great promise to the influence of a small church. Through the years, it sometimes thrived and sometimes fell behind. There was always a remnant who kept the church going. Eleanor and George Funk were among those who raised their three children there, making sure they learned great truths in Sunday school and church.

So, what was the secret of this small church? After all, there was no choir loft, no pull-down screen for Power Point presentations, no band to attract the teenagers, no large rooms for Sunday school, and no color on the walls. There is nothing about this church on the outside or the inside that “grabs” you and invites you to come back. Yet, within this plain church, things happened for the kingdom. Gospel lessons were taught even if there were only a few attending that day.

When my late husband, Roy, was young, the church was pastored by the Rev. Lee Sickal (whose daughter would marry Bill Gaither and become Gloria Gaither of the Gaither Gospel Music group). It was Gloria’s mother who showed Mr. and Mrs. Funk the difference between going to church and knowing Jesus personally. She led them to the Lord, and she also taught them the skills of godly parenting. When Roy’s mother spoke of her good friend, Dorothy Sickal, it was with great gratitude. She gave Mrs. Sickal credit for helping her know how to bring up her children with Christian values. It worked. All three Funk children took what they learned and then brought their children up the same way. Now, those children’s children are being taught the gospel by their parents.

Snow-packed winters were not a reason to close church. On a particularly cold Sunday morning, with snow measuring several feet deep, Mr. Funk began clearing his driveway so the family could get to church, where Gloria’s dad was waiting. No one had shown up. However, he continued getting the small sanctuary ready for worship. When the Funks finally arrived—in fact, the only family to arrive that Sunday—Pastor Sickal greeted them and said, “I knew you’d come.” Then, the Sickals and the Funks had church.

When someone had a prayer need, the Rev. and Mrs. Sickal included their two daughters. They called the girls inside, joined hands in a circle, and the four of them started doing business with the Lord. This type of praying soon included others—it moved down the street and up the next dirt road to the Funk farm, where family prayer also included the children. Now that those children have grandchildren, the pattern continues. It is never strange to see any of our family members taking the hand next to them and stopping for prayer at various times of the day. In fact, it is normal.

The Burlington church had a vision. Ornate furniture and stained-class windows were not part of that vision. The vision was to teach Jesus! The church sponsored a missionary family, whose picture was distributed to church homes for prayer. Mr. and Mrs. Funk kept the missionaries’ picture taped to the hallway wall, a daily reminder that these friends on foreign soil counted on their prayers.

Having grown up in a large church, where Sunday night MYF programs were a Hollywood production that brought in youth from other churches, I questioned the impact a small church could make. However, Roy’s home church changed my thinking. When kingdom work goes forth, church size and impressive programs do not matter. When dedicated Christians bring the Word, powerful things are done for the cause of Christ. It is the Word of God that matters, not large choirs or impressive programs, though these measures have value too. The key is bringing the life-changing message of Jesus to the lost. The concept that “each one reach one” still works. One-on-one evangelism and small group settings are proven to be a major tool of evangelism.

Jesus’ original church started with only twelve men. Even without a building program, an eye-catching slogan, or a booming praise band, those first disciples effectively spread the gospel. They gave us a model to follow. Teach Jesus. However you can. Just teach Jesus…and watch what he can do. Lord Jesus, help us keep our focus on you. May the Lord continue to bless the small church.