By Jeff Matas
As of March 1, I stepped into Doug Talley’s shoes as State Pastor of Indiana Ministries. The truth is no one can fill Doug’s shoes. We were blessed to have his vision and leadership in Indiana and beyond during his 14 years at the helm. Under Doug’s leadership, Indiana Ministries has done some incredible stuff. We have a renewed focus on church multiplication that is driven at the local church level instead of at a state level. Our 3C (consultation/covenant/coaching) effort has impacted over 30 churches. Mission 120 resulted in 40 pastors building a discipleship pathway for their churches. Doug has intentionally strengthened our relationships with pastors and churches. Doug brought vital leadership during the pandemic. He personally reached out to every pastor he could, to simply ask, how are you doing? How can we help? He organized Zooms with nationally known leaders during the lockdown to better equip pastors and church leaders. He rallied other state ministries during the pandemic. We have built partnerships with the state ministries in Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan. We are allies together in church planting and multiplication, as well as in discipleship. Doug, we have been blessed to have you as our state pastor for the last 14 years. Thank you for your leadership and vision.
Where do we go from here? The Consultation-Covenant-Coaching effort will continue. The focus on discipleship will move forward, building on the foundation of Mission 120. And of course, our emphasis on church multiplication will continue. The partnerships with other state ministries will continue to grow. We will continue to pursue our mission of equipping the local church to accomplish the great commission of making more and better disciples.
I want small churches to know that they matter. The great majority of our churches in Indiana are below 100 in size. A survey by Faith Communities Today (FACT) conducted just before COVID shows that between 2000 and 2020, median church service attendance dropped from 137 people to 65. That was pre-Covid. I asked our statistics guru Maggie to put together a spreadsheet of all our churches in Indiana from the largest to the smallest. And you know what we discovered? Post-Covid, the median size Church of God congregation in Indiana is 60. The size of our churches mirrors what’s happening nationally with other tribes. I want this next season of IM to have a focus that welcomes, affirms, and includes small churches.
My first pastorate was a church of 10 people. When it comes to leading a small church, I get it. I understand the pressures. I know what it’s like to go to a conference where every speaker has a large staff. At my first church, I didn’t have a staff. I didn’t have a team. As Karl Vaters says, pastors often hear that they need to “get the right people on the bus.” Using Vaters’ metaphor (with only 10 people), I didn’t have a bus, I had a 15 passenger van with 5 empty seats. I needed everyone on the van.
Small churches matter. Through two millennia, small churches have been the primary way the kingdom of God advanced. Small churches are not the problem. They are not a problem to be solved. They will always be a vital part of God’s plan. Small church pastors want to make a difference, but they feel overwhelmed, inadequate, sometimes ignored, and marginalized. As I travel the state and visit churches, very few of them are in major cities. Most of them are tucked away in out-of-the-way places in little towns.
My first pastorate was in Stroh, Indiana. Stroh is a little unincorporated town in the northeast corner of the state. It has three churches. two taverns, one bank, one grain elevator, and no stop light. The pastor that I followed was a bully. Every Sunday, he would yell at the church. He would berate them. He would put them down. Unsurprisingly, he grew the church down to ten people, then he left. After he resigned, God called me to leave my life in the corporate world to pastor that little church. I didn’t know anything about leading a church. The only thing I had was a dramatic calling from God to do it.
I wasn’t there long when a group of four women asked to meet with me. Each of them had a husband that was lost. They came into my office and asked this rookie pastor for help. They said, our husbands are lost. They need saved. Can you help us?
I’m still figuring out how to preach a sermon. I didn’t know how to lead a board meeting, or how to officiate a wedding or a funeral. I had nothing to give them. I had no answers. I had four women looking at me—their new pastor—to fix this. All I could think of to say was, “Would you join me in praying for your husbands every day and fasting for them once a week?” As those words came out of my mouth, I thought, are you crazy? I really love food. What did I just say? I didn’t think to put a timeframe on it. My commitment to them was open-ended.
That day, I joined a lifesaving mission with those wives for the sake of their husbands. And several years later, on a Sunday, every one of those men gave their lives to Christ and was baptized. And it wasn’t because I was so smart and gifted. It was simply because God moved in a miraculous way in response to hearts that broke for the lost.
What if we have missed the mark of what God has for the local church? Did God really limit kingdom effectiveness only to pastors and churches that check all the boxes? Is God’s plan for reaching the lost really dependent on how great the senior pastor is as a leader, visionary, and communicator? What if God designed the church to be a body? What if God could use a pastor whose greatest gift is not preaching or strategy, but he or she simply had a heart that broke for the lost? It didn’t matter that they would never have a following of people streaming their sermons. It didn’t matter if they didn’t have the coolest facility. Their church could be located on a blip on the map in the middle of nowhere. What if God’s plan for the local church and his design for pastors was to mobilize the ninety-nine to reach the one (using Jesus’ Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15)? What would happen if we could recruit, gather, and equip pastors and congregations to reach the lost in their community? To pray for lost people. To fast for lost people. What if we could reignite our ambassadors for Christ that are sitting dormant in the pew? What if we could challenge and disciple our people to ask the Holy Spirit to identify people in their sphere of influence in their homes, their families, their neighborhoods, their workplaces, that don’t know Jesus. To start praying for them by name. To love them. To show them they matter to us because they matter to God.
What if Indiana Ministries could partner with pastors and churches, to better equip them for the Great Commission? To engage our churches in relational evangelism, so that pastors are better equipped to lead their churches to have a heart that breaks for the lost. This is something any church can do regardless of size. Regardless of your building. It doesn’t take money. It doesn’t take a certain level of sophistication. It doesn’t take a superstar leader. All it takes is a pastor to light the fuse.
Jeff, this was a great article and I fully believe your desire to see people accept Christ, was the the key to your success. You are very gifted in many things or you wouldn’t be where you are today, but the most important is winning the lost. Thanks for all you have done and will be doing in the next several years to further Gods Kingdom.
Great article on the smaller churches. I never served a congregation of 60 much less 10.
But your emphasis on praying for and seeking the lost is spot on….and anyone can do it.
Loving God and Loving people is what we are called to do. Many pastors are not gifted preachers
or great visionary leaders…but most have a heart for God and for people and that is the difference maker!
Praying for you as you assume the leadership of Indiana Ministries!
Pastor Mark NIelson