The foundation of all ministries is the local church.
What were the conditions/circumstances when you arrived?
The church was about 55 people in attendance. The church was 34 years old and still in the building that the section had built for it in the 60’s as a plant. Of the 55 people, no one was born in Washington, so there was a sense from me that the church had not reached a truly local person. Most of the congregation was my parent’s age. In 1992, the church attendance was around 110 in a town of 7,500. In 2003, the church had decreased while the town nearly doubled in population. The church was shrinking while the town was booming.
What did you do first?
The first step was to listen to the stories of a group of disheartened people. I had never served in a congregation that was shrinking. I realized that their loss was not just in attendance, but in giving to missions and tithes. These older saints were frustrated with their church, past pastors, and the district. Most of all, the people were sad because the church that their kids grew up in in the eighties and nineties, was not able to keep them engaged. The real pain in their church decline was that their kids had in many cases fallen away from God.
The second step was to change the mentality of the church.
- Throw away unnecessary decorations.
- Say “no” to ideas that were off mission or impossible to do with excellence in a tiny church with no kids or kids ministry.
- Begin celebrating any time we saw a native of Washington, Missouri saved.
Do you remember what was going through your mind as your began this journey?
Oh yes! Day one, I said to my wife, “If there are no children in this church in 12 months, we will resign and tell the district to shut it down.”
What were your initial road blocks?
No kid’s ministries, no kids, no nursery, and no Wednesday night services. Nobody will send an offering to a project that has a history of failure. It is easier to raise funds for a new plant because there is no history, no failure yet, and no records to prove if things worked. Another big road block was being the anonymous church. As I spoke to people in town, most did not know that First Assembly of God existed, nor did they recognize our location. But, everyone knew the drive-through liquor store across the street. 305 Liquor became a very important part of inviting people to church. We called visitors 5th time visitors, because we found in follow-up that they had visited five or six other churches before visiting us.
When you accepted this assignment, what did you envision happening as a result of your ministry here?
When I accepted the assignment, I simply envisioned pastoring a church that would keep my family from starving. The vision for what we have become and are now, is a development. It was truly not all conceived when I accepted the assignment.
What was/is your most significant challenge in your time here?
In 2013 we had three Sunday morning services and we were remodeling a building to relocate. That was the toughest year ever, but the best year ever. We were limited in funds, so we did the lion’s share of the building with volunteers. God really blessed us with Louis Todd, a MAPS RV leader and Tim Willard, our Business Administrator who knew how to build. For several Saturdays it was just Tim, Louis, and me verses the 26,000 square foot building.
What would you say was the key to seeing things turn around?
Communicating a Biblical mission to the congregation with a reasonable geographic target area and saying “no” to everything that was outside the mission and target.
Did you ever feel like quitting?
Yes. Every January for the first 10 years we were in Washington, Stephanie and I would sit down to set our annual budget and make plans. At that annual meeting we would determine each year if we could afford to stay another year. In February of 2010, I went to my dad for advice. He is not a pastor, but a good Christian. “Dad, I don’t think we will make it this year. God has placed no other church or region on my heart. If God does not provide or tell me where else to go, I think he may be asking to leave ministry for a time.” Dad just said, “Take care of your family. That is your job. I will be supportive of whatever you do to take care of them.”
Why didn’t you?
I did not quit because there is a conviction in my heart that what the world needs most is local church pastors. The foundation of all ministries is the local church. Without local churches there is no missionary sent, no church planter supported, no Christian radio station promoted, no camps, no Christian music industry, I could go on. If you are a church planter, pray now that the Lord will raise up a pastor who will be willing to lead an imperfect, slightly troubled church like the one you have planted. Later in 2010, I received a job offer that would have more than doubled my income and had benefits. I would have had to step out of Pastoral ministry to another kind of ministry, but I could not get away from the call to lead a congregation.
What kept you going?
Small victories that led to more small victories. Those add up over time so that we positioned ourselves to hire John Jahnke as a full-time children’s ministry associate. Sometimes my wife kept me going, other times John or our secretary Sandy Pettet kept me going. Regular prayer and devotion times kept me on track.
What have you learned about yourself in this process?
I consider myself pretty average. But what I learned was not about me, but about God. He knows the start and the end. I may not really ever understand myself, but he knows me better than I do!
What have you learned about your church through this process?
This is the best group of people. This is the friendliest place in town. I would rather have my three kids grow up in this church with a dad that makes less money than in a big church where dad makes money but they have to witness strife. A good church can help hold a marriage together so that kids are raised and go on to do great things in school and in life. That is not only true for congregation members, but for the pastor’s family too.
Paul and Stephanie Scheperle have been ministering to the community of Washington, Missouri since 2003 as the pastors of Life Stream Church. If you would like to learn more about their ministry, check out their Facebook page, or their website.