Last month I was in West Virginia with my partner in ministry, Jim Dunn. We were presenting a seminar entitled "The Intentional Missional Church." The host of this event shared with us that we would be holding the training at Three Mile Wesleyan Church. "This church," he explained, "is located in a holler."
Honestly, I was both intrigued and concerned about this prospect. I had never been in a holler. I wasn't even sure what a holler was. And any connotation I had of a holler was not overly positive. Images of feuds and folk not welcoming of outsiders played themselves out in my vivid imagination. Riding with our host on roads that crawled deeper into the wooded hills did nothing to abate my mental picture. What I discovered, however, was anything but what I had created in my imagination.
A holler is a small valley that has only one way in and one way out. The Three Mile Church was located at the 'head' of the holler. The head is about as far back as you can get in a holler. It is located on a very small piece of property. To call it postage stamp size would be much too generous. It is here Pastor Billy Burdette has been ministering for over 10 years. It is here I discovered a missional church. It is here God taught me lessons of faith, vision and effectiveness. Here are the discoveries:
- It's not your location that limits you, it's the limits you put on your location. I could think of all kinds of reasons a church should not be effective in such an obscure location. There is not much drive-by traffic in a holler.
- Needs are everywhere; if you notice them you can meet them. Three Mile had just completed the construction of a gym/family life center. It has a fully furnished kitchen, with an impressive eating area. Why did they build such a facility at the Head of the Holler? Pastor Billy shared that there was no place for people to gather. No place for folks to have anniversary parties, wedding receptions, family reunions, etc. It was meeting needs. It was a community center.
- Quality is in the little things. What I saw, they did with quality. They had motion-activated hand towel dispensers. They had flat screens in each Sunday School Room upstairs. The equipment in the Kitchen was excellent.
- Clarity of mission brings focus to ministry. Pastor Billy knows that young people need to be reached. They have chosen to focus on teens and younger. This is reflected in their new gym/family life center. It is reflected in their programming. They run a midweek kid's ministry that has, at times, connected with over 100 kids. They feed dozens. Their youth program runs over 30 people.
- A leader who has a heart for God and a passion for people will be effective. Pastor Billy is bi-vocational. This could be an excuse for not doing what is necessary to reach his community. He doesn't allow that. He wants to make his God known. He loves people. This causes him to do whatever it takes to connect the two.
- Missional matters. Being missional is simply looking outside of ourselves to see the community that surrounds us. Three Mile Church is missional because it is driven by the community needs, not congregational wants.
The next time you find yourself bemoaning your location; the next time you discover yourself thinking there are no more people to reach; the next time you believe missional is too postmodern for you; the next time you believe you are too small to do things with quality; I want you to take a moment and consider the church at the head of the holler.