Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
In the book, Legacy Churches, Stephan Gray and Franklin Dumond address the question, “How do you know when it may be time to close.” They highlight six characteristics:
- Public Worship Attendance has Drastically Declined
- Staffing of Essential Ministry is no Longer Adequate or Effective
- Annual Income is No Longer Adequate to do Local Ministry
- Age or Tenure of Membership is Unusually High
- The Church Hasn’t Consistently Grown Over the Last Five Years
- Survival Has Become the Main Mission
First Presbyterian, Doniphan has signs of all of these. But they also have spunk, resilience, energy, efficiency, hospitality, and love.
You have to drive a long distance to reach our furthest south and west church. Doniphan is located about three and a half hours southwest of St. Louis. The town has an array of churches representing different stripes of denominations. All the more reason why First Doniphan should not be able to survive. Yet, they are alive, and after my visit with them I understand why.
The building is immaculate. It is well maintained and doesn’t show signs of deterioration you would normally see in a struggling church. There were 12 people is worship. In addition to the 8 members, they have faithful visitors who enjoy worship and fellowship with them. Bruce Johnston leads worship. He lives 95 miles away in Arkansas. He is a member of Doniphan, and has been making the 190 mile round trip to serve the people of this congregations for years. Bruce is commissioned to serve communion and approved to moderate session. Also, instead of having a musician, the church uses a programmable piano. A member programs the hymns for the day into the piano, and then it plays on cue. The Sunday I was there, there was a solo by Bruce’s daughter, who lives in New Mexico. As I looked around to locate her, I then realized that she had been recorded, and her voice was playing through the sound system. These folks are up on their technology. They don’t have a telephone, but they have a Facebook page!
I really saw the church in action during the pot luck. The food was delicious! A separate table held the deserts. We ate and fellowshipped. They then cleaned up, all like clockwork. Efficient. Orderly. Plenty of laughter, storytelling, and fun.
This is when I realized this church is going to survive for a long time.
Here is a church with all of the outward signs of a closing ministry. But inside are people who bare the marks of Christian love, and hospitality. It is a reminder that we cannot judge a church by numbers alone. When we take the time to get to know the people, we learn that God is still full of surprises.
Rev. Craig M. Howard