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Looking for the Right Niche

Acts 2 Journey helps church zero in on strong suits.
New Vision Ministries has emerged from the financial debt that marked the rural Springfield, Missouri, church when Gary W. Thomas arrived seven years ago. Nonexistent missions giving has been replaced with regular contributions to a dozen missionaries. Ministry has started to Laura’s Home, a transitional living group home in nearby Willard for girls about to age out of the foster care system. The church honored first responders in the community. New Vision held a mortgage burning service. The gymnasium is paid off.

Still, challenges remain.

“We’ve plateaued,” says Thomas, 71. “The church has a lot of potential. Houses are going up everywhere. People are out there we could reach.”

Thomas and a team of leaders from New Vision recently finished quarterly cohorts of the Acts 2 Journey sponsored by AGTrust. The four two-day sessions, led by AG Assistant General Superintendent Alton Garrison, are designed to help local church leaders better impact their vicinity.

The small church is seeking a part-time youth minister and part-time worship leader. Most attendees live nearby, but the myriad programs available at a megachurch only three miles away, are more attractive to some locals.

As a result of the Acts 2 Journey, Thomas has concluded that New Vision needs to capitalize on its strengths — including its smallness.

“We need to be a family rather than a church of familiar strangers,” says Thomas, who also teaches electronics at a local community college. “We need to be involved in each other’s lives.”

Thomas also wants to see adherents impacting the lives of neighbors more. The church is about to embark on a “loads of love” ministry in which random visits will be made to a nearby coin-operated laundry to pay for washing and drying customers’ clothes. The effort will include giving groceries to residents in a nearby mobile home park.

“Acts 2 has challenged us to reach beyond our own myopic vision,” says Thomas, whose folksy preaching style contains dashes of humor and whimsical stories from his 51 years in ministry.

“I choose to attend a smaller church because it’s easier to know people and to be known,” says Julie Horner, who has been at New Vision for two decades. “It’s easier to get involved and harder to hide.”

Horner, who works as senior director of publishing at the AG national office, teaches an adult Sunday School class at New Vision and she has served as children’s pastor. She is grateful Thomas took the church through the Acts 2 process.

“The value of Acts 2 is setting time aside to pray through God’s vision for our church and how we are distinct from other churches in the community,” Horner says.

Kevin L. Larsen is in charge of small group ministries at the church, which he has attended for almost five years. He likewise appreciates the Acts 2 goals.

“Transformation is a lifelong endeavor,” Larsen says. “If a church is not growing, it’s dying.”

As a 17-year-old boy angry that his 47-year-old father had died, Larsen fell into heavy alcohol and recreational drug use. Ultimately, tired of living, he asked God to show himself, and accepted Jesus as Savior. At 30, Larsen married his wife, Ramonita, who has struggled with lupus since 1992. Larsen worked at General Motors in a variety of jobs for 30 years, ending up as an assembly line team leader. After living in Michigan for 48 years, he moved to Springfield to attend Central Bible College. Larsen also works full time at the AG national office as guest relations officer.

“While there are challenges filling ministry spots, it’s easy to know everyone at a small church,” Larsen says. “There is an intimate, family feel.”

Acts 2 Journey Retreat Three Highlights from Southern Missouri District.

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.