I can’t remember how much I’ve written about Eldred. Our town of 800 is located just south of the border of Pennsylvania and New York. We are about 15 miles from Olean, NY (pop. 13,000) – the biggest city anywhere near us and also 15 miles from Bradford, PA (pop. 8,000). In order to get to a city of any size, you go north to Buffalo or Rochester, or go west to Erie. All of those cities are at least two hours away.
I’ve mentioned before that the Wesleyan Church vision statement goes like this:
Celebrating every time a disciple makes a disciple and a church multiplies itself until the Wesleyan Church has a transforming presence in every zip code.
Again this post is prompted by a discussion that was on Facebook, but I didn’t want to write a novel there. The cities of Bradford and Olean, each have a Walmart. At 15 miles those are both relatively close for us. When we lived in Fort Edward, our closest Walmart was at that distance. Even in Martinsville, Walmart was around 10 miles from our house. When we lived in Staunton, Walmart was only about 5 miles.
I know it may seem hard to believe, but there are many people (usually by choice) in our neck of the woods that live many more miles from Walmart. If you head south, you won’t run into another Walmart until you get to St. Mary’s, which is well over an hour, clocking in at 57 miles from Eldred. Granted we live in a different part of the world than many people do, but that is the point of this post.
I checked it out and within a 50 mile radius of Eldred, there are just 7 Walmart stores. In that same 50 mile radius there are 47 Dollar General stores. The closest three Dollar General stores reside in Portville, NY; Shinglehouse, PA and Eldred. Our town is the smallest of the three at 800. Both Shinglehouse and Portville have over 1,000 residents.
I give you all the information first so that now we can turn to how that applies to the church. We often think for a church to be effective that it has to be big. I would agree that a church needs a certain critical mass in order to be the church. However, it’s not as big as we would think. Even as I think about McCrae Brook, we are getting to that critical mass point – we may even be there. We do have some challenges when it comes to an aging structure with our buildings, but we can still reach the surrounding area of Eldred.
Look at this mission statement:
In Dollar General, you’ll find a company that embraces substance and simplicity. Our mission is Serving Others. For more than 75 years, we have served communities with convenient-sized stores to deliver everyday low prices on products that our customers use every day. We deliver a smarter, easier shopping solution accessible to more consumers
Several key words – the first is that their mission is serving others. Shouldn’t that be the mission of the church? I like how they say they have served communities with convenient-sized stores. So many times with think bigger is better. In addition to the Dollar Generals we also have several small footprint grocery stores. They are great because you can get in and out fast and because they are local, the people get to know you. I want to pull one more quote, they promise a “smarter, easier shopping solution accessible to more consumers.”
The church should be a place that serves others. First let me say that I have the utmost respect for large churches. The Wesleyan Church has many great “mega-churches.” Our largest is found in Lawrenceville, GA. 12Stone is pastored by Kevin Meyers. Several years ago we had an opportunity to visit. We have also visited Heritage Church in the Quad Cities. In addition to that we were part of both College Wesleyan and Lakeview Wesleyan while living in Marion, IN. Both of those churches ran over 500 worshipers while we were there. This post realizes that we need churches of all sizes. We need our large churches. They are ministering to much larger communities. 12stone operates just outside Atlanta, GA. We have several larger churches in our district that serve the greater Buffalo area.
However, there are places, for the purpose of this article, I’ll call them the Dollar General churches. I think McCrae Brook is one of them. We can reach the people in the smaller places – and there are many of them. There are around 50 zip codes in McKean and Potter Counties (which reside within the Western New York District.) And we have just two churches (both in McKean County.) I realize that the Wesleyan Church isn’t the only game in town. But I also note that in many of the communities that have a Dollar General, there is also other retail establishments. Yes, there are churches in McKean and Potter Counties that are not Wesleyan and that’s ok – we work together for the cause of the Gospel – but why not have a Wesleyan, transforming presence in every community where there is a Dollar General? I know my Wesleyan Canadian friends have taken the mission statement and changed it to a transforming presence every where there is a Tim Horton’s and if you been to Canada, you know there is a Tim Horton’s on every corner.
What does it mean to go to every zip code in the USA? How does that look here in the Twin Tiers? God has continued to challenge me to push the boundaries of McCrae Brook. I believe that God is calling us to plant a congregation in Shinglehouse. This would be a start into Potter County.
Several of my pastor friends have posted links to articles about bi-vocational ministry. One of the things that we are going to need to reach every zip code is bi-vocational pastors, who are involved in their community and the church. As I’ve mentioned before, God has granted us incredible favor in our community. We love our neighbors here in Eldred. I believe smaller churches are uniquely situated and qualified to plant churches in places like Eldred and many of the smaller communities in Western New York.
In our district, we only have 35 churches, but we have over 250 zip codes – as you can tell many of them are not reached by a transforming presence – at least yet. There are many places in the surrounding area that people wouldn’t want to drive 20 minutes to church. After all, they only drive 20 minutes or less to Dollar General. Smaller churches are uniquely situated to reach communities that need a transforming presence.
I’d love to here your comments…either here or on Facebook.