Pastor uses revitalization experience to help other small churches

CRAWFORDSVILLE, IND. (BP) – After helping lead his small-town Indiana church through a revitalization process stretching many years, pastor Terry Thompson started a non-profit ministry to help others do the same thing.

Thompson, lead pastor at Rock Pointe Church in Indiana, founded Small Church U.S.A. in 2019. The organization is focused on helping pastors and focuses on the health of the church, rather than its size.

“Our goal is we just want to encourage and strengthen pastors, pastors’ wives and churches to revitalized health,” Thompson said.

When Thompson and his wife Kelly came to Rock Pointe Church (then called Pleasant View Baptist Church) in 1998, the congregation comprised about 20 people, whose average age was 64.

Not dwelling on the church’s small size, Thompson said his main goal in coming was “just to get the church healthy again.”

Through a long process of vision-casting, biblical preaching and intentional evangelism, the church eventually grew to more than 500 members over the next 10 years.

After maxing out its facility space, the church moved into a new building in early 2010 and changed its name to Rock Pointe Church. Over the next several years, membership grew to more than 1,000.

Thompson said small churches from all over Indiana and around the country began contacting the church asking for advice. This led to the foundation of Small Church U.S.A.

The non-profit offers small churches the opportunity for pastoral training related to revitalization strategies. Pastors are divided into cohorts of around five people who meet consistently over a six- to 12-month span. Discussion in the groups generally relates to four revitalization topics: evaluation, information, participation and transformation.

Thompson travels around the country to speak at conferences on church revitalization, and Small Church U.S.A. serves clients all over the nation, from Utah to Maryland, including several Southern Baptist churches within his own state of Indiana.

One of those Indiana clients is Brian Omerso, pastor of Parkway Southern Baptist Church in New Albany, Ind., who joined one of Small Church’s cohorts in late 2020.

After initially hearing about Small Church from an event sponsored by the Southern Indiana Baptist Association, during which Terry made a presentation, Omerso decided it would be a good investment to help the declining church he grew up in.

Omerso’s grandparents were two of the eight original church members at Parkway 65 years ago, and his 94-year-old grandmother still attends. After being raised in the church and going off to college, Omerso returned to the church to join the staff and eventually became the senior pastor seven years ago.

Parkway began experiencing steady decline even before COVID-19, but the pandemic took the church down to fewer than 30 attendees.

“We knew there was going to be something that we needed to do differently, or the doors were just going to close,” Omerso said. “When we got to see the presentation from Small Church, it just felt like an answer to prayer. It seemed like it just made so much sense.”

Being able to learn about church health through consistent Zoom meetings with other pastors in the same situation was one of the most motivating things for Omerso.

“I can’t ever predict if the things that we’re doing and things that we’re changing are going to make up a bigger church, but they will make up a heathier church,” Omerso said.

“A healthy church is one who listens to Christ, follows the leading of His Holy Spirit and cares for the people around them. That’s something I can say for sure we can get good at that, and if God chooses to respond with sending more people our way then all glory to Him, but if not we can be confident that we are being the right kind of ‘Book of Acts’ church that we should be.”

Thompson said Small Church U.S.A. tries to keep costs low for churches and offers scholarships when needed. He said he is willing to do whatever he can to help small churches revitalize in their own communities, so that the influence of Christianity does not leave the small towns of the country.

“Church planting often happens in big cities, but we can’t lose the small counties and areas as well,” Thompson said. “There are lots of people that need Christ in small towns, and small towns need healthy churches. If we lose all of that (churches in small communities) this country’s going to be in really bad shape spiritually.”

As the 59-year-old Thompson nears the final stretch of his ministry, he explained the biblical model of Moses raising up Joshua serves as an example of how to do ministry for both himself and Small Church U.S.A.

“As a more seasoned pastor now in ministry, what I want to do with pastors is encourage and strengthen,” Thompson said.

“Whenever we (Small Church U.S.A.) minister, we are always thinking about those two words, encourage and strengthen. Let’s come alongside them and let’s shore up what’s already there to help them be healthier in leading their churches.”

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