Rural Churches Leading the Way for City Churches in the Midst of Pandemic

Bucklin Methodist Church: Easter 1918, Sunday School (212 record attendance)

Our Conference has republished some articles which give us a glimpse into the ways Missouri Methodists led and served during the 1918 flu pandemic. In one of those articles I discovered something so exciting and inspiring for rural ministry!

The very first article speaks of a revival which had been held at Wilkes Boulevard Methodist Church in Columbia, MO. The preacher for that revival was from Bucklin, MO (a rural community with a current population around 400)! Here is the article:

Wilkes Boulevard, Columbia MO – October 16, 1918
The revival at the Wilkes Boulevard Methodist Church, Columbia, was a great success. The services were held in a tent for the last two weeks, and splendid audiences attended throughout the services.
There were 52 additions to our church, and some few went to other churches.
Rev. O.L. Martin of Bucklin, MO, did the preaching, and did it in his own unique way. Sometimes with much sarcasm, sometimes with flashes of wit and humor, sometimes with great flights of oratory blended with pathos and beauty.
As a whole, the meeting was a great success, and the church was strengthened and edified, and had not the Spanish Influenza invaded our town we would have gone at least another week and the good would have certainly been more far-reaching than even that was.
We have been prevented from having any service since the close of the meeting on Sunday night, Oct. 6, to baptize or receive the candidates into the church.
Everything looks very encouraging on the outset of the great year of the five, with a united, revived church and increased membership and 11 months of the year to utilize the results of the revival.
Surely God doth all things well.  A.B. Coffman, P.C.

(The entire May 19, 2020 publication can be found here)

The image above shows the Bucklin Methodist Church congregation on Easter 1918, seven months prior to the revival. The description reports that this was the largest congregation in attendance to date in the church’s history. Something was happening in Bucklin!

The Spirit was moving in this rural community in a way that made other churches take notice and invite some of that Spirit to their communities! Friends, when I read that, I got excited!

It is easy to believe that our rural communities and ministries have limited resources, limited reach, and limited impact on the Kingdom, but this article proves those beliefs wrong!

As history repeats itself in viruses, so I believe history can repeat itself in ministry. However, recognize that it isn’t the same virus that came back around. It is a new virus that has caused similar effects on lives and communities and even on souls.

It is also easy to desire “the good old days” of church life and ministry. Most often the significant piece of that desire is the activity of the Holy Spirit and the joy of transformed lives among your congregation. Those pieces of ministry history can repeat if we are willing to find new ways to reach the lost.

In Luke chapter 15, Jesus tells three parables in response to the complaints of the Pharisees and teachers who didn’t understand why Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them. Jesus’ first response is to say that “there is more rejoicing in heaven over one lost soul who repents than over the 99 righteous who don’t need to repent.”

I took a master class last month through Fresh Expressions and Dr. Anita Eastlack, The Wesleyan Church’s Executive Director of Church Multiplication and Discipleship, spoke about the importance of teaching our churches to keep that rejoicing in heaven, and among us, going to that next one. The trouble is we have spent too much time hogging the rejoicing for ourselves instead of going out and searching for that next potentially repentant sinner, and the rejoicing has dwindled or died out.

Dr. Eastlack teaches that we must equip our congregations in three ways:

1. To go and witness to the transformation of their own lives because of God’s saving grace,

2. To go and serve the needs of their neighbors in the name of Jesus; displaying the power of His transforming love,

and 3. To go and multiply; continuing this cycle of seeking the lost, inviting them to receive salvation by grace through faith, celebrating their decision and then teaching them to seek, invite, celebrate, and teach too.

Take a few moments to reflect on these questions: At what point in your church or ministry’s history did you get stuck in celebration mode and stop this cycle? What is one simple thing you can do to start it again? Since Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs, who is one person that will go with you?

I pray that you are inspired to seek the lost and multiply! You can! You know your story of faith, and sharing it can impact the lives of others. You and your ministry team are uniquely equipped by God to seek the lost sheep near you, so don’t focus on the limitations, but on the coming celebration!

If you would like to share in discussion, I invite you to leave a comment or contact me. I would love to hear about your ministry and continue to encourage and support your leadership.

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