I grew up in Laverne, a town of barely over 1,000 people, tucked away in the far corner of NW Oklahoma. I was shaped and formed in that place. To many, Laverne is just another drive-through or fly-over place—a small place of little consequence—but for me, it is one of the most important places in the world. It is the place I first heard the Gospel, learned how to follow Jesus and grew to love people. Though I don’t live there anymore, it is still “home,” and I am grateful to call it that.
As I drive across Oklahoma, I see many “Lavernes,” places that may seem unimportant. To those who live there, however, these places are of the utmost importance, because they are home. In fact, nearly half of the population of Oklahoma live in one of these “small places.”
Unfortunately, even churches can inadvertently begin to ignore these places because of their small size or limited influence, ignoring half of the people who live in our state. To ignore small places in ministry is to say to these Oklahomans that the Gospel is not big enough to include them.
However, none of these small places are overlooked by God, so they should never be overlooked by us either. Small places matter because people matter, and the Gospel compels us to go to all places. Just as Paul took the Gospel to all of Asia Minor (Acts 19:10) we must take the Gospel to all of Oklahoma, not just the “big places.”
As we do this, we will see and experience many things. Small towns are beautiful places, full of unique culture, community and strength. But it doesn’t take long after we get there to realize these same small towns are full of profound brokenness, loneliness, hopelessness and despair.
Issues of addiction, poverty, mental health, racism, isolation and depression are everywhere, and these small places are in desperate need of the Good News, the Gospel. As anyone who does ministry in a small place can attest, it is hard work. Small town ministry is often lonely, under-appreciated and under-resourced. It is not for the faint of heart, yet it is profoundly beautiful in the eyes of our Savior.
In the face of such challenges and difficulties, influenced by a culture that promotes the “big,” too often we only dream small dreams for small places. Too often we let the smallness of a place define its importance in our eyes. Some young ministers look down on the prospects of ministering in a small town, or simply see them as stepping stones to “important ministry.”
Others see ministry in a small town as a dead-end assignment that will inevitably lead to disappointment. For those who have been ministering in small places for years or even decades, the road can feel long, and work can feel slow. We can be tempted to give up on our call or give up on a place because we lose hope in the face of the challenge.
But what if we started seeing these small places differently? Jesus clearly loved to do big things in seemingly insignificant places, because the power of the Gospel is not limited by the size of a place. That should give us big vision and big faith for what God can do in even the smallest of towns.
It is because of this vision and the Gospel hope that some of my friends in ministry and I are joining together for the Small Town Jesus Conference in Shawnee Feb. 21-22.
Whether you are already leading in an existing church or ministry, looking to step into small town ministry or plant a church in a smaller context, or simply looking to grow as a missionary to your small town, the purpose of this conference is to grow our vision for small places, to deepen our faith in what God can and will do through the church in those places, and to equip, encourage and connect you with others passionate about small town ministry.
Consider attending the Small Town Jesus Conference and capturing a fresh vision for how this big Gospel can transform the places we call home.
Information and registration are available at smalltownjesusok.com.