Earlier this month, The Gospel Coalition New England hosted a conference for New Hampshire pastors and ministry leaders. It was a success—not because it was big, but because it was small. The town in which we met is small (Loudon, New Hampshire; pop. 5,317). The hosting church (Faith Community Bible Church) is small. The speakers weren’t big names. One guy played guitar. The conference attendance was small (50 pastors and ministry leaders).
The only big things about this conference were the gospel that was proclaimed and the vision of what God might do.
Why do we so often delight in what is big while disdaining what is small? The kingdom we proclaim came like a mustard seed. Yes, the gospel is big, but it cherishes what is small. And sometimes, for the sake of gospel advance, it’s best to go small.
Take New Hampshire as an example. By almost any metric, New Hampshire is composed mainly of small places. Even the biggest cities in New Hampshire are small. Manchester has about 110,000 people; Nashua, 90,000; Concord, 43,000. Depending on how you measure what is urban and what is rural, New Hampshire is as much as 84 percent rural. The majority of New Hampshire residents who live in incorporated places live in towns of less than 25,000 people. This state specializes in small places!
And that’s true for New England generally. Much of this region is rural and small-town. That means if New England is to be reached with the gospel, we must go beyond the city. We must cultivate a vision for ministry in small places and encourage those already laboring there.
How will the faithful pastors and Christians leaders ministering in the small places of New Hampshire (and the rest of New England) be best served and encouraged? That’s the question we’ve been asking as the leadership team of TGC New England. We think part of our calling is to go small: small conferences by small-town pastors for small-town pastors.
Many high-profile conferences require small-town pastors to spend big money in order to travel to a big city in order to hear big-city speakers. Then they have to translate it all back to their small-town contexts once they return. We’re grateful for these big conferences (we attend and benefit from them and have ourselves hosted a number of them). But we’ve come to believe it’s also important to go to where much of the New England gospel ministry is being done. Small conferences led by small-town pastors are more local, more affordable, and more reproducible.
Our theme for the day was “A Big Gospel in Small Places.” We considered how the nature of the gospel itself sends some of us to small places, sustains us in ministry there, and shapes the character of our small-place ministries. We discussed what gospel-centered preaching in small places looks like and how it’s best done. And we confessed sin, shared struggles, and encouraged one another toward joyful ministry in the small places. With a total of 50 people, there was ample time for discussion and prayer.
These New Hampshire pastors are doing fantastic work in places you’ve never heard of. One pastor serves in a town of 300 and has 5 percent to 10 percent of the population attending his church. Another is pastoring a 200-year-old church of 12 people. There was a sense of gladness and gratitude among these pastors for a conference designed for them, in a place close to where they live, addressing struggles they face, and focusing on a big gospel they love.