Miracles in Small Places: The Turnaround Ministry in Clare, MI

Pastor Jim Young described himself as "just an average guy, nothing special." But when he came to the Clare (MI) Church of the Nazarene 15 years ago, they were averaging around 75 in worship. Their progress over the past decade and a half under Pastor Young's leadership has been anything but average or normal. The Clare Church defines "The Turnaround Church" in multiple ways. This past Easter, the congregation celebrated in three different services with nearly one thousand in worship.

When Pastor Young was asked to describe his ministry approach, he gave it in simple terms: "Preach the Word and love the people." He said one of his professors in Nazarene Bible College taught him that lesson in a profound way.

"Professor Floyd Perkins was the prof who really encouraged me," Young recalls. "He loved people like I'd never seen a leader do. And the year his wife was dying, he would come to class and teach his heart out. One of the things he said I'll never forget: 'God is always looking for a place where He's welcome, and a place where people are welcome.'"

That bit of wisdom clearly shines through Pastor Young's ministry today. His Executive Pastor Tim Fall serves on staff at Clare and offered this description of his pastor: "His greatest strength is loving lost people. When new families visit our church, Pastor Young knows their names after the first visit—even all the kids' names! Just walk down the hallways with him and watch how all our children are quick to say, 'Hi, Pastor!'"

In his years as pastor, Young estimates he has personally led 400 people to faith in Christ. And those conversations have happened in all kinds of settings. Sometimes it occurs from one of the memorial services he conducts in the community, "other times, it's just an everyday conversation with guys over coffee," he says. "I'm more old school when it comes to being a pastor. I like to stay with the people.

"My advice to other pastors trying to break the 100 barrier?" He rubbed his chin thoughtfully and responded, "Find a need that no one else in your community is touching. After ministering to their needs, use your friendship to introduce them to Jesus."

And their church has modeled that advice. A few years ago, when the schools in their area lost all their funding for the "After School Program," the Clare Church stepped in to help. Since Clare is only a town of 1,800, and there are only 23,000 in the whole county, what the church offered had a great impact.

A large number of senior adults volunteered as after school tutors. The congregation set up teams of volunteers at the church for their free after school program. Once a week, they even served an evening meal to any and all students and their parents. Needless to say, the program was a huge hit in their community. And a variety of other ministries keep their building busy every evening.

One evening each week, there's a Weight Watchers Group that meets at the church property. On other evenings, two different Mothers of Preschoolers meet, with around 50 children in the children's programs that run at the same time. Wednesdays includes the family program called "Kid's Power Zone" with a staff of nearly 75 volunteers serving meals and offering free tutoring for students doing their homework. Then there's the youth ministry, the Senior Adult Concerts and the list of ministry activities goes on.

The leaders estimate they have served meals to over 4,000 people each year from needy families in their community. Having served in the area for 15 years, Pastor Young receives many community calls from unchurched families for memorial services, which they offer for no charge at their church property. Each week, every first time guest gets a visit from the "Pie People" who deliver home made pies from some of the best cooks in the church. Small wonder the enrollment for the Clare congregation has grown to nearly 2,000, all without any advertising in the local paper or phonebooks.

Youth Pastor Joe Kronewitter reflects the same missional passion for the youth. He says, "Our vision is for the teenagers of Clare and the surrounding areas to be able to have a place where they can come to discover God's purpose for their lives. I believe God creates each human for a life of purpose. I believe by creating an environment where students can experience Christ on a personal level, they will start to discover that purpose. We also strive to help each teen discover who they are in Christ by helping them find their spiritual gifts and what God given passion drives them."

All this growth hasn't come without some challenges and changes. "Changing the attitude of people is the hardest thing to do," says Pastor Jim. "Some of our people who didn't catch it early on left the church, when they saw all these new people getting saved.

"Our church had to change the traditions they were used to. They weren't all wrong, just used to 'doing church' their way. It was only about the church people. What they did on Sunday wasn't impacting their community. Now we're learning to accept people with their issues and needs, and let them know they are welcome to worship with us."

This past Easter, the congregation celebrated with 955 in worship in three different services. Many of the regular families continue to drive 20 to 30 miles every Sunday morning to their church's worship service, passing many other churches on the way.

"We know we're not the right church for everyone," Pastor Young says, "But as my friend, Don Wellman, used to say, 'If we'll become an Acts 2 church that meets the needs of people, then like verse 47 says, 'God will add daily to the church those who are being saved.'"