Small Churches Getting Bigger


A church can be a real an anchor for its community. An anchor, properly used, provides stability and security, a steady presence in turbulent times. An anchor, at its worst, can be an insurmountable burden to those who are entangled in it, dragging even the strong to the bottom with its relentless pull.

The first kind is what we are all going for. But there have probably been times when most churches may have started to feel a little like the second.

This month The Missouri Methodists brings you a couple of stories about two churches that are steadily growing. One is a very old church in a large building that is making a new start – the other is a young church that is reaching a level that it hoped to achieve when it was founded 26 years ago. Both churches got to where they are today by faithful people persevering through difficult times, times when it surely seemed that it would have been a lot easier to go to that other church down the road. 

If you have a good arm, you could through a rock from the Antioch UMC parking lot into Springfield – you might even hit the city limit sign. The city is south, and just a bit to the north are green pastures encircled by horse fences. 

The Downtown Church, on the other hand, is in the heart of the city – right in the middle of things. It’s surrounded by new restaurants (both chains and local places), antique stores, coffee shops, theaters, bars…everything you would expect out of the downtown. 

And although Springfield is Missouri’s third largest city, you can easily get from Antioch to Wesley Downtown in less than 15 minutes. Springfield isn’t that big. But it does have a lot of churches – many of them big churches. The Assemblies of God national headquarters are there, and it is where they print their material for their churches. They measure the printed word by weight, and are currently shipping about six tons of gospel literature a day, five days a week. Their biggest church in the area, James River Church, averages over 9,000 a week in attendance.

There are big United Methodist Churches in Springfield, too. Five of the 30 largest United Methodist Churches in Missouri are in Springfield, with two in the top 10. There are also several other smaller United Methodists churches around town, none more than a few minutes’ drive from the next closest one. 

So people in Springfield have a lot choices when it comes to church. It impressive to see two very different United Methodist Churches that are averaging just over 100 people in worship on the upswing. 

If you come to Annual Conference in Springfield this June, you can easily stop by The Downtown Church to say hello. Friday night has intentionally been left open for clergy, and just has a short mixer event for laity. It is also a first Friday, so The Downtown Church will be geared up to greet the community for the First Friday Art Walk. Just look for the tree shown on the cover of this magazine.