How a Small Rural Congregation Became a Megachurch Overnight

church-wheatfieldThis is the story of how one small, country parish, nestled between wheat fields in the vast stretches of the Texas panhandle, astounded the experts on church growth by becoming a megachurch overnight, without even trying.

The gravel parking lot around St. John’s began to fill early that morning. The shadow from the steeple cast the image of the cross on the western side of the church as families from miles around climbed out of Fords and Chevrolets and the occasional Buick to make their way into the sanctuary. The pastor stood by the front door, greeting folks who came in, asking about Aunt Susan’s broken hip, and the Reynold’s new horse, and how the football game how turned out in Sunray the other night. The man of God who served this parish wasn’t much to look at, and his accent was a bit too northernish for most people’s tastes, but they loved the man anyway. He had baptized their children, buried their grandparents, and preached a fairly decent sermon most Sundays.

By the time church was ready to begin, it still hadn’t happened—that shocking influx of worshipers I spoke of. In fact, things looked just about as ordinary as ordinary could be. The Kirkpatricks, with their five children, took up most of the next-to-last pew, just like every Lord’s day. The spinster organist, Ms. Schultz, was playing softly and hitting, well, most every note. Hymnals were opened to the page where the divine service would soon begin. At 10:30 sharp, Pastor Baker walked up front and spoke the same words he did at the start of every Sunday morning service, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And the congregation responded with a hearty, “Amen!”

Then, without any warning, it happened. The floodgates were opened. Worshipers began streaming in. Before the congregation had finished saying, “Amen,” this rural Texas minichurch was transformed into the mega of megachurches.

Through the stained glass windows and the steeply pitched roof, seraphim swooped down from celestial realms. Each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And around the sanctuary you could hear them chant one to another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” The foundations of St. John’s shook at the sound of their voices and the whole church was filled with the smoke of incense.

But they were not alone. Cherubim winged their way down from the heavenly Jerusalem. Not the cute, chubby Precious Moments’ angels, but massive, manly warriors who stationed themselves like sentinels around the sanctuary, belting out the words to every hymn sung, adding their Amen to every divine word read and preached that day.

But the angels were not alone. With that angelic crowd came saints beyond number, men and women who had fought the good fight, finished the race, and gone on to glory. But here they were, back at St. John’s during this Sunday morning service to lend their voices to the earthly choir of farmers and ranchers and coaches and teachers who were still on their way to the heavenly Jerusalem. Every pew was packed. Standing room only in the aisles. Some sat on the rafters and looked down with serene gazes upon the altar, where, wonder of wonders, there was a throne. And on that throne was a Lamb, slain yet alive, sacrificed but resurrected. Every face of every worshiper, angelic and human, earthly and heavenly, was fixated upon His face, for there they beheld the face of God Himself.

With angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, the people of St. John’s lauded and glorified the name of that Lamb, their Lord Jesus Christ, that day. Every song shook the building as the celestial and terrestrial choirs blended their voices. The Lord’s Supper was a reunion meal, where the folks on earth and the saints in heaven received from their Host the food above all foods and the drink that quenches the deepest thirst.

It was a day to remember. And it was a day to repeat. For the following Sunday it would happen again. And then again. And then yet again, when this tiny Texas church would bulge at the seams with worshipers from realms seen and unseen, all joining together in the adoration of the Lamb whose kingdom is without end.

ChristAloneCoverIf this reflection was helpful to you, and you’d like to read more–many more–like it, then take a look at my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

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21 thoughts on “How a Small Rural Congregation Became a Megachurch Overnight

  1. Deacon John Hackett, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, Mountain City, TN on said:

    It wasn’t clear to me why/how the transformation occurred. Fill me in Chad. Thanks! I enjoy your non-sugar coated posts.

    • Hi John,
      Today the church celebrates the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, so it seemed a great time to post a meditation on what is really happening when the church on earth gathers for worship. We are not alone. Where the church is, where the Word of the Lord is present, there the Lord Himself, along with His angels and archangels and all the saints in heaven, is present. As the author to Hebrews puts it in chapter 12:
      “You have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” So when the people of St. John’s began worship, they began worshiping with all the people and angels of God, seen and unseen.

      Thanks for the question and for being a reader!
      Chad

      • Deacon John Hackett, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, Mountain City, TN on said:

        So in effect they truly became a “megachurch” in God’s eyes. Thanks for the clarification Chad.
        With Compliments,
        John

  2. How to start my day with a flood of tears. Two years this week and the pain of loss is as sharp as ever.

  3. Rev. Greg Schultz on said:

    Thank you, Chad, for your fine explanation of the correct presentation of the Divine Service. Church growthers ain’t got nuthin’ on this!

  4. Thank you for this salutary reminder of the same insight given to me by Concordia prof that when we 2 or 3 are gathered together, more are in attendance, numbers which can not be tallied in a district office. “Glorious is God with His angels and saints, O Come, let us worship Him” (invitatory for daily prayer). Blessed feast day to all.

  5. This is awesome and what a great way to think of just how many are truly in worship. I always wondered who WAS sitting in those first 3 pews on both sides of church. Now I know! Thanks to Pastor Sean Smith for sharing your post to his FB friends because that way I was blessed to read this and will certainly share it with all my friends. And so the message is spread throughout the world. BTW, I did have to get a tissue.

  6. Pingback: The Festival of St. Michael and All Angels, 29 September, anno Domini 2,014 | Concordia and Koinonia

  7. Suellen Dehnke on said:

    Love this! Shared.

  8. What a magnificent picture of our worship – it brought tears to my eyes, and chills! Thank you!

  9. Rev. Larry A. Warsinski on said:

    “with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven …”

  10. Thanks for this post.

  11. Nancy Stepp on said:

    This topic was a recent discussion at a Bible study I participate in… All the saints; past, present AND future! Mind Blown!!!

  12. One of our members likes to say that when the pews are not filled it gives more seats for the angels, so that the sanctuary is always filled. I think it reflects what you are saying in this wonderful post.

  13. Pingback: How a Small Rural Congregation Became a Megachurch Overnight | We're here for you - St Paul's and Gnadenberg

  14. Chris Enge on said:

    Every week we say we believe “in the communion of saints.” Thanks for painting the picture!

  15. David Mueller on said:

    Herr Bird, may I reprint this in my dual parish newsletter for Oct? I print “Eddie’s Service” by Rudyard Kipling every December since the first time I was a pastor preaching on Christmas Sunday morning, and the s0-called megachurches were *cancelling* Sunday services. This past Sunday I had 25 and 27 in attendance at my two churches (visible attendance, that is!). I remind my folks of this fact from time to time, and they hear and appreciate it, but you wrote this very well, and it is worth repeating. (No surprise. 🙂 )

  16. Rev. Michael Boyd on said:

    Very nice depiction of what is happening in the background in another dimension as Christ joins heaven and earth as we do the Holy Communion. He did so at His transfiguration and continues to connect the finite with the infinite in His Supper.

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