In Praise of Small Churches

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Hickory Plains Church of Christ, Cedar Grove, TN

Today, I drove 50 miles from the campus of Freed-Hardeman University to take a picture of an old abandoned church building.  This building formerly housed the Hickory Plains Church of Christ.  In 1982 and 1983, I took turns every other Sunday preaching at this congregation while I was a student in college.

Every other Sunday, I would drive 100 miles, preach in the morning, crash or do homework at someone’s house in the afternoon, preach again Sunday night, get paid $60.00, (and believe me, that was generous!  I received much more than they did!) Then I’d drive back to school.

But what I find amazing is that I was just one of dozens of “preacher boys” who did the same thing.  In 1959, this tiny congregation of people that probably never had more than 25 members, decided to give young men wanting to preach the opportunity to preach for them.  While they were small in number and limited in resources, for more than 25 years they encouraged, gave experience to, and yes, even endured the preaching of young men who were trying to learn how to preach.

Personally, I think that when we have a discussion of some of the  “great churches” in our brotherhood, we would be remiss not to include little congregations like Hickory Plains who had the vision and patience to help young men develop their preaching skills.  I, for one, owe them a debt of gratitude.

Do you have a small church to which you are indebted?  If so, why don’t your share your story in the comments section?

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Comments 21

  • The St. Joe Road church of Christ in Bellaire, Ohio, was the one Jack worked with both years of preaching school. We lived in their preacher’s house and Jack preached two Sundays a month. On the fourth Sunday of each month, one of the other students would come preach. They were so encouraging and supportive! They appreciated the effort of anyone who came to speak and always had something nice to say.

  • Roby, about 8 miles or so from F-HU. I didn’t preach there regularly, but I attended there my freshman year and did some fill-in preaching. Great place. Had my first southern pulled-pork bbq at a potluck there. Later, I preached from Sinking Creek Church of Christ in Perry County, and then did youth work at Parsons (a larger church). Those small churches serve a wonderful function in training future leaders.

    Good post.

  • Great article. Reminds me of Salem church of Christ. 🙂

  • The Eureka Heights church of Christ is small with about 20-25 on Sunday morning with a country atmosphere. This very sound congregation in Taylor, Michigan just south of Detroit gives a lot of men opportunity to lrad singing, preach, teach class and doing things they would not get to do in a big church.

  • In 1987 we moved to Southern Illinois. We worshiped at the Belle Rive Church of Christ Small in stature but big in heart and spirit. We had 43 members but much was accomplished for The Lord! As I recall 4 baptisms while we worshiped there!

  • From 1996-1998, while attending East Tennessee School of Preaching, I preached once a month for a small congregation in Daysville, TN. I drove around 50 miles from Karns, TN and just preached in the evening. For awhile I went twice a month as a friend was also preaching once a month there, and we would travel it together.

    The first time I preached there was only my third sermon ever. We started at 6:00 p.m. and got out at 6:30! I believe sometimes my audience today wishes I would do that again!

    Had my first response to the invitation while here. We began to sing, and this brother who must have been about 80 made his way down the aisle. My first thought? “What’s he DOING?” I was really green yet.

    Got over my nervousness here as well. I was always so nervous before getting up to speak. A preacher who had been preaching for 50 years told me he still got nervous, and I thought, “If it’s going to be this every week, I’ll never make it!” But one of the Elders said to me one week, “Just remember that we all want you to do well as much as you want to do well.” And do you know – THAT worked. I won’t say I was never nervous again, but I will say I recognize that specific day as being the day my nervousness about preaching decreased a great deal.

    I still dispense that same advice today to young men (and those who may not be so young) who are getting up to preach for the first time. I have to say with embarrassment that I don’t remember that good Elder’s name, but I sure remember what he said to me – and I doubt he realized how much further his words that evening would spread!

  • In June of 1958, I preached my first sermon at a little congregation in Wayne County, Tennessee called Mt. Hope. I doubt they ever had more than 30 in attendance. From that start I enrolled at Freed-Hardeman that fall. I had a circuit of 4 such little congregations speaking at each one Sunday a month. The experience received was invaluable. I think the most I ever got paid at any of them was perhaps 20 dollars but I cherish the memories and those dear brethren who were so patient with me.

  • I’ve got to give credit to the church that meets here in Moab, Utah. I filled in for a number of months here. What this would lead to is them offering me the position as their full time minister. I have been blessed to be here. Also though, Moab is similar to Hickory Plains because they have had countless fill in preachers over the years and have given these men experience in the pulpit that they would not have otherwise had. Praise God for the Moab church of Christ.

  • I preached about the same time (1982-1985) for Rehoboth, north of Dyersburg, in nearly identical circumstances as you mention (except I was paid $150). I had graduated from Brown Trail and moved to Henderson to study further. What a blessing that was for my life and how I wish I had been better able to be more of a blessing to them. You are right–small churches are incredibly important for many reasons. Thanks for reminding me!

  • Shockley Church of Christ in Spencer, TN. I am the man I am today because they gave me a chance and set me on that road. My cousin followed me there and he is also in ministry. That was their role in the kingdom for a lot of years.

  • Most of us preachers could tell a similar story. For me it was the Wolf Creek church of Christ in Hickman County, Tennessee. I drove 80 miles one way every Sunday from January 1975 – May 1976. I came to love some of the greatest people on God’s green earth and am still blessed to have a wonderful relationship with those dear friends.

  • While a student at Harding during 1963-1965, I had the opportunity to preach at the Current View Church of Christ in Missouri, just over the Arkansas line near Current River. This is the same congregation where my father, Jack Hawkins began his preaching career. Dad was raised in the area and when I was there, I had aunts and uncles who still attended there. I was paid $20.00 per time and my uncle let me fill up my 1955 Ford with gas from his farm gas. I will never forget these good people and the opportunity they gave me.

  • We’ll let me try this again, had it done but lost it. Back in the early 1960’s, we had a young man from FHU, come and preached for us for three summers. He also came and preached during his breaks from school, thanksgiving, Xmas, but I don’t know if they had a spring break back then. We worshiped at a small congregation in Great Cacapon, WV. This is a small town west of Berkeley Springs, WV. where my home was and still is and where we worship now. This young man baptized my mother in 1961, I still have her baptism certificate. The last time he visited us there, was 1966, I remember I was twelve. He was a great influence on me, even though he didn’t know till years latter. His name is Bro Gibson Stead and his home at that time was in Front Royal, VA. That’s where he grew up in the church. But his family raised another young man, Bro Edwin Floyd, who went to FHU, who preached for us, I think for seven years, at the same congregation. Bro Ed baptize me when I was 19. I had just been married to my wife, of now, this April 40 years. We have three children, two who are faithful, eleven grand children and one son in law, who preaches for a congregation near Charlestown, WV. All because a young man wanted to preach, I still thankful for his influence, and I give God the glory. Thank you , Bro Gibson Stead and Bro Ed Floyd. James 5:20 says, Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins.

  • Thankful for the opportunities small congregations gave me to preach during my two years at Harding. I started at Thida with a congregation of six which sometimes included a dog named “Bubba.” I also preached for over a year at Fox (Stone county) Ar. Beautiful area and wonderful brethren.

  • The power of a small congregation is amazing. Sometimes they have a much more powerful affect and reach than many large congregations. Lives are touched, molded and purposed for God in small churches. I first started preaching at a small congregation in Bangor Maine. I would travel up there once a month with my family in tow. We met in a house that had been rented by them for the preacher they thought was going to move there permanently. We worshipped in the living room and the bible classes were held in the bedrooms. I am forever grateful for the start that they gave me. My time there helped me to prepare to help start another small church in Sabattus Maine, where I preached for six years. We left there 3 years ago to work with the church in Kittery Maine. The church there in Sabattus closed their doors this past month. But that little group of believers had a far reaching affect. Many lives were touched by God in their 9 years of existence. As the Bible shows us, God can do mighty things with just a few faithful believers. Small churches are proof of that today.

  • This building looks so much like the one I knew as a child. My daddy used to preach at a place called Lelia Lake, Texas. There was a tiny auditorium and only two classrooms at the back. We often had “singing all day and dinner on the ground.” I particularly remember a tall thin man by the name of Fish who would always lead “If We Never Meet Again.”
    Those were ordinary weeks, but gospel meeting times we met every morning and evening for two weeks. Once Otis Gatewood held a meeting for us.

  • This article was so good. I reflected back to the late 40’s
    When Daddy(Ted Hanlin) took me with him on his preaching appointments.
    Oh how I loved those time.We went to so many small congerations
    But, those people loved the Lord and I saw it as a small child.
    Pursley, Elk Fork, Glen Easton , Sardis oh I could fo on and on but, I
    Know they too had a part in the Christian I tey to be today.
    I saw love in those Churches. I stll thank God today for the time I was with those saints even as a small child. I think Daddy put more in the collection than what they paid but it didn’t have to be about the money I know Daddy and I loved those small congergations that loved the WORD. I am so happy to read others experienced the same things I did. Oh weren’t those homemade noodles the best.
    Articles as this makes the song When we all get to Heaven so much sweeter
    Thinking Love,
    Darlene McKinley

  • I wonder if Mr. & Mrs. Eugene Crumm were related to Ellis Crumm, the compiler of our hymnbooks, Sacred Selections and Special Sacred Selections. Those books were used a lot by the Ontario churches but not so much in the USA. They were not as widely used as the ones compiled by Jorgenson and more recently by Howard. Good article. I’d never given it any thought to those smaller churches. But think of the encouragement YOU students gave to them also. Without you students, how many of them would, out of discouragement, would have closed their doors?? May God bless our “preaching schools” for teaching our young men the skills needed to preach God’s word. Never underestimate the fifty bucks you send to a “preaching school”. Every dollar keeps those schools open all that much longer!! Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. We all need to do our part no matter how small it might be!!!

  • I got a call when I was 23 (Nov. 2000) to fill in for one of the rotating preachers (Fred Burton) who was preaching for the Wallace church of Christ in Wallace, WV. Fred had laryngitis and could not come. That led to preaching 2 Sunday nights/month for this congregation, whose attendance I only saw break the barrier of 20 one time, during a meeting. I believe they gave us about $40 each time. It was very generous. They still meet. The church in Shinnston, WV also gave me opportunities to preach every 5th Sunday night during that time. All that led to my decision to attend West Virginia School of Preaching in 2002.
    When in school, I was blessed to teach on Wednesday nights in Pursley, WV for about a year. It was about an hour drive, and they were wonderful. Also while in school, I preached full time for the Proctor church of Christ, Proctor, WV. They gave many opportunities to preaching students, and financially blessed us far more than we deserved! None of these churches had more than about 60 members, most had less than 30, and all of their doors are still open. What great, great works they have done!

  • For me it was Hillcrest church in Dunmor, Kentucky. Drove up there from Nashville, TN every Sunday for two years, then moved into the community and continued to preach for them. Left there to go to FHU. Have been back for a couple of meeting over the years. The people were very patient and encouraging. Never did anyone say anything to discourage me. Yes, Steve H. these are some of the great churches in our brotherhood. No preacher worth his salt starts out in a “big” church.

  • It breaks my heart to see this abandoned building of the Lord’s church.

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