By Philip Claycomb
Our first coaching appointment was a bit awkward. Greg Garcia picked me up at the airport in Houston and started driving to the community where he was starting his new church. Along the way I saw indicators of growing suburbs: construction, traffic, and new rooftops as far as the eye could see! This is a great place to start a church, I thought.
But Greg kept driving out into the country—way out in the country! As we pulled into Needville, Texas, population 3,000, I asked myself, How do you tell someone he’s chasing the wrong dream?
I like small towns! I grew up in one and enjoy them. But this was not a question of like or dislike. This was about selecting the best place for a new church. In my mind, a small town was not where one pursues a big vision. Needville was simply too small. It wasn’t growing.
So as we drove around Needville, I repeatedly asked Greg, “Why here?” I did my best to convince him to relocate to a bigger and better place. Looking back—I’m very glad Greg saw a big dream in such a small place!1
It has been nine years since Creekside Christian Fellowship launched. In that time the town has not
witnessed much outward change. The population still hovers around 3,000. But the spiritual landscape has been radically altered. The little “launch team” of nine adults and three kids that started the church has become an extended family of 700. The church averages 350 in weekly worship. Just three months after it launched, Creekside purchased 15 acres of land on which it installed a 1.5-acre fishing pond, youth soccer fields, a softball field, an amphitheater, a gazebo, outdoor restrooms, and a community park. CCF broke ground on a 7,500-square-foot facility on its first anniversary. In 2008, it erected an additional 19,000-square-foot multipurpose facility that it nicknamed the “lobby.” CCF is preparing to construct a third building on its property.
This would be big news in almost any community, but this is huge news in Needville. Creekside is having a significant impact as families are transformed, marriages strengthened, and children immersed into the reality of God. In short, new life is being sparked in Needville. Specifically, 189 people have accepted Christ and been baptized since Creekside started.
An Exceptional Story?
It would be easy to dismiss Creekside as an exception to the rule, or simply an unusual occurrence, if similar results were not being witnessed elsewhere. In addition to serving with Creekside, Greg also now coaches church planters for Nexus: Church Planting Leadership; many of his projects involve churches in small towns. God has a soft spot and big plans for small communities.2
Look Deeper—On first glance it didn’t look like Needville warranted a new church. It already had 13 churches before CCF was started! Closer inspection, however, revealed Needville actually had more bars than churches. And frankly, the bars were more active and vibrant. Several buildings had signs stating that a “church meets here,” but most had lost their vitality years ago. There was a desperate need for a fresh expression of the body of Christ.
A deep consideration of the needs of a community fosters passion for the lost people who live there!
Love Fiercely—A key factor in the success of any ministry is how much the leader loves his community. Leaders sometimes love their vision more than the actual people. A leader who is in love with his community will do whatever it takes to connect with his neighbors.
Greg, who grew up in Los Angeles, puts on his cowboy boots, gets into his pickup truck, and ventures into his mission field each morning. To effectively touch Needville, Greg has had to learn the ins and outs of county fairs, rodeos, livestock auctions, the hunting seasons, and the all-important 4-H Club.
Creekside has a small-town, Southwest flavor about everything it does. The church speaks the love language of the local men by raffling off a gun each week. It hosts an annual sports show on its property, complete with jet skis, fishing boats, and skeet-shooting. It hosts school dances, graduation parties, and scouting events. In a town where few kids venture off to college, Creekside has distributed 40 college scholarships since it began.
Loving the community can take a minister into awkward situations. Two brothers once asked Greg if he would help them bury their dad. He prepared for a funeral and was surprised when they picked him up and drove him out into the country. There, with just the deceased man’s sons, Greg took his turn working a shovel as they literally “buried their dad.”
A fierce love for your community will prompt you to reach out in new and unexpected ways!
Respect the Potential of Small Things—Small places are all too often overlooked and forgotten. The one who leads us would have us remember his words about the transforming potential within a pinch of leaven. He would suggest we consider just how large a mustard seed can grow, if given the opportunity. The Lord of history would ask us, “Who dares despise the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10).
The dismissive attitudes we sometimes have toward small, out-of-the-way places might suggest to us the danger of arriving at a place where we feel we have risen above a leader who was himself a small-town boy, working a humble blue-collar job, associating with backwoods, unschooled day laborers.
A greater respect for the potential of “small things” will prompt us to take bigger risks with God!
Rethink “Missions”—The Lausanne II mission gathering in 1989 established a special time for leaders to gather in national clusters to pray and strategize regarding the mission challenge in their own countries. That happened in every national gathering—except one. The U.S. delegates gathered and strategized over how they could reach people elsewhere around the globe.
I believe strongly in foreign missions—but the Creekside story is a vibrant reminder we don’t need a passport to get to the mission field! We don’t need to cross over saltwater to reach our harvest. The Lord of the harvest would ask us not to forget the lost who are close to home.
A healthy rethinking of missions will focus our attention on those who live “next door”!
1An excellent resource on ministry in smaller communities is Big Dreams in Small Places by Tom Nebel (Saint Charles: Churchsmart Resources, 2002).
2Nexus recently contracted with NCD Consulting (firstname.lastname@example.org) to conduct a study of our growing small-town churches and to target small towns in Texas and surrounding states.
3George Hunsberger, The Church Between Gospel & Culture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 3.
Philip Claycomb is the director of Nexus: church planting leadership (www.nexus.us). Nexus starts churches in Texas and eight neighboring states.