New Life Reborn in Rural Missouri
When Pastor Glenn R. Epps, 34, reflects on the revitalization and growth that has taken place at the church he pastors in rural southeast Missouri, he’s reminded of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.
After meeting Jesus she goes back to her community to tell others about her experience and invites them to come see Him (John 4:28-30.)
“She didn’t have to have an evangelism class or anything like that,” says Epps. “When the Lord does a good work in someone, discipleship is very important. They’ll naturally tell somebody about the Lord and that’s just what happened here.”
Seven years ago, Epps became
senior pastor at Life Chapel
Assembly of God in Puxico (population
850). When he arrived, the church had a weekly average attendance of
62, whose average age was 65. But Epps saw a potential for growth, as the church
had moved into a larger building in 1978 along a state highway.
Epps says he began diligently studying the Word, praying, and listening for God’s instruction.
“No matter who was there on Sunday morning we wanted to do our best for the Lord and the good people of Puxico,” Epps says.
Like the Samaritan woman, those in attendance began telling others in their community about the Lord and inviting them to church. People who didn’t know the Lord or hadn’t been going to church began attending and confessing their sins. Within a couple years, the church grew to about 115 in its average weekly attendance with little transfer growth.
A predominant part of the congregation now is between the ages of 25 and 39, Epps says. It’s not uncommon for as many as 20 children to come up to the front of the church for a Bible lesson during the service.
Before the church added adherents, Epps and his wife, Bridget, began getting to know the people in the community and building a trusting bond.
Don E. Miller, superintendent of the AG’s Southern Missouri District, says such an approach is key to growing and sustaining a rural church. He used a similar method in Ash Grove, a southwest Missouri town of 1,470 where he pastored for 25 years.
“We just became totally immersed in the community,” says Miller. “Involved in the school, involved in the city. You’re always looking for ways to minister to everyone whether they’re part of your church or not.”