What happens when a rural church doesn't give up?

Jim Capaldo

Regional President

  • Church strengthening

In the spring of 2015, Grace Church, in St. Paul, Nebraska, a church without a pastor and an average attendance of 40-45 people, took a very hard look at the way it was doing ministry. Under the direction of interim pastor Al Magnuson, this examination led to some major changes in church government and committee structure. But these changes did not resolve everything; they were still without a pastor, having been turned down twice by pastoral candidates who had received unanimous votes from the church body. Brian Smith, a deacon at Grace, said, "By April 2015, we were wondering if it was time to close the doors and walk away." But God was not done with them yet.

Later that month they received applications from three candidates, one of whom was pastor Daniel Bear. Interestingly, earlier that year pastor Bear had experienced his own hurts, having experienced two churches setting a date for final candidating weekend and then both of them cancelling due to internal church conflict. He had seriously considered walking away from ministry, but upon the advice and encouragement of a trusted mentor, he continued applying to churches.

Pastor Bear commented, "This was a very tough time for my family and me. We left one ministry for another only to have that door close on us. We ended up selling our home and moving in with parents while we waited for God to lead us somewhere. Let me tell you, living with your parents at 35 years old with a wife plus four kids because you are unemployed is hard!" But as with Grace, God was not finished with him yet. 

After going through the candidating process, in mid-August Grace voted to call pastor Bear as their new pastor. He began serving, along with his wife, Rachel, and their four children, on October 1, 2015. That is when God began proving even more that he was not done, yet.

Since then, God has used these two broken entities – a small-town church and a young pastor and his family –for his glory. With God's help, the support of an outside prayer team of over 100 people, plus the prayers of Grace members and through the efforts of this congregation and its pastor, Grace began growing. On March 26, 2017, Grace had a "Celebration Sunday" in which they baptized three children and nine adults and welcomed 14 new members into their church – 146 people were present to celebrate with them. In the past year they have seen 16 people baptized and 21 join as new members. More important, since January they have seen three new decisions for Christ, 11 since 2015.

Since October 2015, their average worship attendance numbers have doubled to over 90, their children's ministries has grown from 6 to over 40, and their financial budget has grown almost 70 percent. They have had to remove the pews from their sanctuary so they could switch to chairs for additional seating, and they raised over $100,000 last fall to begin a new building project.

When asked what they were doing to cause all this growth, pastor Bear laughed and said, "I have no idea!" But after thinking for a moment, his response was, "Prayer! I have a personal prayer team outside this church representing more than 100 people and two other churches that I send specific prayer requests to on a regular basis. I know these people are praying and God is answering their prayers. Yes, our new governmental structure helps, and the people of Grace are the most loving church family you can imagine, but for us it all boils down to prayer and God's grace."

Pastor Bear continued by saying, "With all that we have been through, 'Grace' is not just part of our name. Grace has healed us, changed us and restored us. With God's help we want to do the same for those in our community."

Please pray for Grace Church. Their goal in the next five years is to be averaging 10 percent of the population of St. Paul, a town of 2400. They also need prayer as they look to hire a part-time youth director this year as well as begin their new building project.

It is obvious God has done some incredible things, and he is not done yet. Keep praying!

Jim Capaldo, Regional President

Jim Capaldo is Converge Heartland Regional President.

Additional articles by Jim Capaldo