The Fifth Annual Stephens Roadrunner 5K will take place this Saturday. Our church and town will host about 100 participants and spectators in the heart of Stephens in an effort to send a mission team on our fifth trip to the village of Kobuk, which lies about 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle in bush Alaska.
One of the most important tasks of a pastor of a small church that once was much bigger is to help move the focus outward. It’s easy to wring your hands in worry or shake your head in defeat over where the church is now versus where it used to be. These pressures often put the church in “preservation mode,” an attitude that focuses the church’s attention on keeping what we have and desperately trying to keep ministries afloat rather than to ever think about serving others. Preservation mode makes a church very nearsighted and ultimately accelerates decline.
There are several strategies for helping a church regain its vision for evangelism and outreach. One strategy that can seem out of reach for the small church is short-term missions.
One obstacle to short-term missions in a small church is people. Most mission trips require a certain number of people to accomplish a given task. But even a team of 10-15 people can seem unattainable for a church whose regular attendance is 75 or less. For a church like ours that averages less than 50 and is older in population, that number is impossible.
Another obstacle is money. Small churches that are able to support a pastor and also have some budget for ministry usually have people who already give well. Missions are often funded by people giving money that they are able to give but would not have given to a regular budget offering. The givers who support small churches are often already giving close to their full capacity to give, leaving little “extra” for an expensive mission trip.
We knew these obstacles four years ago when we decided to try to make a trip, but we decided to “ask, seek, and knock,” and see where the Lord would lead us. I got into contact with a missions leader at our state convention who had recently returned from the Arctic, where he had spent time with a missionary couple who were pastoring a church in a village of about 140 that was only accessible by plane. These planes could not hold many people or much cargo. Only a small team could go. And a church from a small town would be uniquely equipped to see the value in ministering to such a small and hard to reach group of people.
It seemed to be an ideal fit. They could not accommodate more than four or five people, and that was all the team we could send. The strength of our church is children and youth ministry, and that is the type of ministry that they were needing. Even the age of our team worked as an advantage because of how the Innupiaq (Eskimo) people value elders.
The money obstacle required some creativity. We needed a fundraiser that would tap into resources outside of our own people. I was training at the time for a half-marathon, and it occurred to me that we could probably pull off a 5K event. I asked a larger church in our region who hosted an annual event to help guide me through planning, hosting, and timing a race. I ventured into surrounding communities looking for business sponsorships. Each year, the sponsor money has grown. This year we will have more than $5,000 in cash and goods donated. We expect the race to cover the airfare for four people.
Finding the right mission and the right way to raise money will differ greatly by church culture and location. We have done well working on our own, building a partnership through annual trips by four-person teams. Others might do better joining another church or organization and being part of a larger team. This 5K race works well for our area and our people. Others might do better with a fishing derby or steak cook-off. God will lead each church to the channel of resources that He will provide, in addition to the regular givers of the church.
The relationship we have built with our missionary friends and the people of Kobuk over the past four years has been truly special, and it has been good for our church. It has taught us in a tangible way about God’s provision and about His love for all the people of the world.
God uses everyone who answers His call. It’s up to us as small church pastors to teach our people that when it comes to missions, he may even be calling us.