According to the National Congregations Study, the average church in America has a regular Sunday morning attendance of 75 people. Small churches continue to be the norm, though the larger mega-churches get all the notice. This is particularly true in the large rural areas of our country.

A church with 75 people in attendance on Sunday morning would be considered a large congregation where I was born and raised. My mother, for example, currently attends New Life Church of God in Christ in Idlewild, MI. The pastor of this small rural church lives in Benton Harbor, MI and for the past 10 years has traveled 163 miles one way every Sunday to preach to 20-25 people (on a good Sunday), who are mostly older women. This seems outrageous to most of us. And I would have to admit, that my commitment would be called into question if I had to endure such circumstances in order to preach and pastor. And yet, when I was a young boy growing up in that community, this was not the exception, but the norm.

Of the three pastors I remember pastoring our church, only one actually lived in the community. After he died, the next two pastors traveled good distances every week to preach and lead our church on Sunday morning, and often Wednesday evenings. Like most of the pastors in our community, these black men were bi-vocational. They lived and worked in the factories and industries of the city and yet would joyfully take up their pastoral callings on the weekend. Traveling those great distances often through rain and snow with little pay, and hoping someone shows can be tiresome and discouraging. Yet, they did it for the sake of Christ, his church, and his people.

As a church planter for over 6 years now, I often need to be reminded that a big church in this world does not correlate to the best seat in the kingdom of God. In fact, if we understand Jesus correctly, the faithful with the least in this world will be those with the most in the world to come (Mt. 19:30).

Therefore, when the ministry gets difficult and tiring for me — when I find the valleys seemingly outnumbering the peaks it helps to reflect upon those faithful men of God of my youth — men whose names are not in history books, or spoken about with great respect for their charismatic presence and lofty sermons. They didn’t lead any great social movement or prominent denomination. You can’t YouTube their sermons or read them in preaching anthologies. They won’t be quoted in preaching classrooms. And yet week in and week out they stood before God’s people and proclaimed God’s word as best they could. And as a testament to them most of those churches, still small, are yet still standing.

When I think about them, I am challenged and encouraged by their passion. These men had passion for the ministry. They loved the idea that God had called them to preach and care for his people (1 Tim. 1:12). The ministry was hard, but it was also joy-filled and they embraced all aspects of it. They had passion for preaching. They believed that God had called them to preach, first and foremost, and like Jeremiah, it was shut up in their bones (Jer. 20:9). If they had to travel great distances to do it every week they would. They had a passion for the church of Jesus Christ. Like any pastor they desired to see the church grow. They traveled those great distances not because they wanted the church to die, but because they wanted it to live and thrive. They loved the church even in its most humble and obscure expressions. They had a passion for Jesus Christ. These men did not have the finest education. In fact, I feel confident in saying that none that I knew even went to seminary. But one thing you can be sure of, they believed in preaching Jesus. They were not going to write a systematic theology, but when it came to pointing people to Jesus in simplicity and clarity they took no back seat.

Admittedly, these men were not perfect. The trappings of small ministries are the same as the large ones. The temptations of money, sex, power, and pride do not discriminate based on the size of your congregation. And yet, while some fell at various times in various ways, most held the line and even today serve to remind us of the blessed words of our Lord and Master we all would delight to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Mt. 25:23).

“Faithful over little…” These are marvelous words to hear. And according to the National Congregations Study, this is the portion of most who pastor and minister in the church today. If this is your lot, may you receive it with joy knowing that your Lord and Master will delight to reward you one day – not because others knew your name but because you faithfully proclaimed His.

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Tony Carter

Tony Carter

Anthony Carter (MA, Reformed Theological Seminary) is lead pastor of East Point Church in East Point, Georgia, an organizing member of the Council of Reforming Churches, and a Council member of The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of several books, including Black and Reformed: Seeing God’s Sovereignty in the African-American Christian Experience. Anthony and his wife, Adriane, have five children.


  • Avatar bccomment says:

    Thanks Pastor Tony for encouraging my soul with this post! Pray the Lord’s continued grace and mercy on you, your family, and your church.

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Thank you brother. Prayers are always appreciated. Glad to see you on the Porch. Come hang out with us anytime.

  • Avatar Louis Love says:

    Hey my brother, now this is a good word for those of us who labor in the small works. Thanks brother, this was timely.

  • Avatar george canady says:

    Thanks pastor. My dad was somewhat of what you remembered here. Preached fulltime, substituted at the local school, worked on cars, carpentered, repaired the church ….and yet still found it in his heart to fight some social issues like join in a fight to keep a bar from being built next to a bus stop. I am so proud of him now 50 years later for that. I’ll bet he doesn’t even know I was watching him stand up for others.

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Amen brother. I often find that what is good for my own soul, is probably good for a few others as well.
    By the way, I spoke with my mother on Monday and asked her how church was on Sunday. She said they canceled service because Pastor had to turn around and go back home. The weather was too bad and he couldn’t make it all the way from Benton Harbor. How bout that? I don’t miss those days, bro :).

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    I hear ya bro. Often times faithfulness observed has a greater impact on us than faithfulness heard. Good to chat it up with you again. Blessed New Year!

  • Avatar Louis Love says:

    No big deal brother. What’s -20 degrees wind- chill got to do with it. :-)?

  • Avatar Bob Browning says:

    Excellent reminder pastor Tony. As an almost 32 year old just beginning seminary and not yet pastoring it’s been a struggle to not get discouraged for lack of doing anything “significant.” Your words were a great reminder of the biblical model of true faithfulness that I very much needed to hear. May God continue to bless you in your service to Christ.

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Great to hear brother! I do believe God encouraged my heart with these words and I am pleased to have encouraged yours. The trappings of worldly success are all around us, and even promoted in Christian circles. Still the Words of our Lord must be the ones we seek to build our lives and ministry upon, not those of others. God bless you. And may the Lord be pleased to establish the work of your hands (Ps. 90:17).

  • Avatar Bob Browning says:

    Amen! God bless brother.

  • Avatar Colin Rowley says:

    Miss ya brother. As I’ve said before, I’m amazed at what wisdom God has entrusted you with.

    Thanks for encouraging the often unacknowledged servants. While I work for a large church today, I grew up in a church in IA that took an hour for us to get to on a dirt road filled with farmers. The preaching was solid and biblical. In fact, I came to faith under this same country preacher – Pastor Ron Good. He was pivotal to my new-found faith at the age of 16. Sure, I was 1 of 3 high schoolers at the church, but I grew like a weed in the faith of a crowd of white-headed farmers.

    Btw, I got to this article through our old friend, Patrick Lennox, who just gave you kudos for encouraging him in his small budding ministry to the Cherokee.

    Love ya, bro. Keep up the great work!

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Hey Colin, always good to hear from you bro! Those small rural church experiences are priceless. Though I would not necessarily want to live there today :), I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. Thanks for the heads up. Lennox tells me he will be in the Atlanta area in the a couple of months. We hope to get together.

    God bless you and your family bro. Thanks for stopping by the Porch.

  • Avatar Donald Chavis Jr says:

    Thank you for being faithful in Gods calling of you sir. You leave those close to you w/o excuse in their on service to The King!

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Thanks Don. God is good to us all in putting us in a community of brothers and sisters who seek to know and love God and each other. See ya soon.

  • Avatar Tom Brainerd says:

    Teaching on 1 Thessalonians 2 tonight. The pastor who drives 163 miles one way was an example of one who imparts not only the Gospel, but his life. (2:8). Thanks for the exemplar.

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Praise God brother! Excellent point and reminder that our ministry is not just in the Word proclaimed. Thanks.

  • Avatar josephrandall says:

    Pastor Carter, Thanks for your encouragement here on The Front Porch! I’m wondering if you might please help me with an historical question? Lord willing, I’m preaching on making great sacrifices for Jesus – like losing status, money, job, life etc. – for following Christ. I would love to use an example of a faithful, African American Christian man in history, who made great sacrifices like this for Jesus. Would you be able to give me some examples that I can read more about? Thanks. And I’m sorry I’m ignorant about this topic. Joseph

  • Avatar Tony Carter says:

    Hey Joseph, your question is a good one. I would recommend reading Thabiti’s book “The Faithful Preacher” for starters, particularly the life of Lemuel Haynes. Also, you may want to look at the life of Olaudah Equiano, Lott Carey, and George Lisle. And of course there is always the sacrifices of Harriet Tubman – willing to sacrifice her own freedom for the freedom of others. I hope these are helpful brother. Thanks for stopping by The Porch. See ya again soon.

  • Avatar josephrandall says:

    Thanks so much!

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