If you are of a certain age, then there is a very good chance that you are familiar with the story titled The Little Engine that Could. If you aren’t familiar with the story, then take a few seconds to find it on the Internet and give it a read (or watch a video adaptation). Basically, the story is about a little train engine that was hauling an unusually large load and wasn’t sure she could make it over a big hill that lay waiting down the line. The story was used to teach several generations the value of optimism and hard work.
If churches were train engines, then the South Newbury church in Vermont would definitely be the little engine. There are all of four to seven members in attendance on a typical Sabbath morning, though the pastor, Tom Ferguson, is quick to point out that the mid-week prayer meeting usually has from eight-to-12 people in attendance, and half of those are not members. And the church is not just little, it is also remote, with less than 10,000 people within a 10-mile radius of the church.
The Northern New England Conference is encouraging churches to take up the challenge of mounting a cyclical evangelism campaign this year and repeating it in future years. Ten churches in the conference have taken up the challenge this year, and several others are gearing up and are “on deck” to join the effort in 2021. Most of the churches that have joined in the effort have from 50 to 100 members, and have funds in their evangelism accounts. They are big engines. So it was surprising when the members of the South Newbury church—the little engine—decided that they, too, wanted to join in the cyclical evangelism effort. But maybe it should not have been surprising. After all, the South Newbury members are faith-filled, optimistic, hard-working people who want their church to grow and who want to hasten Christ’s coming.
If you remember, in the story of The Little Engine That Could, as she started her effort, the little engine said, “I think I can, I think I can” and then, when she slowly went up the big hill, she continued to say, “I think I can, I think I can.” And of course, when she went over the big hill, she said, “I thought I could! I thought I could!” Like the little engine, the South Newbury church thinks they can, but to this optimism they also add faith and prayer. To kick off their year-long effort, they recently held a vegan Indian-food cooking class conducted by NNEC’s Health Ministries staffer Martin Raj. Members invited their friends and relatives, and the lone member who accesses the Internet advertised it on Facebook. In all, 10 community members came to the event, which the church considered to be a signal success! The church will follow this up with a vegan Mexican-food cooking class in April, as well as health seminars, a short prophecy series, and Bible studies through the rest of the year.
Does this little church from out in the woods actually have a chance of growing? Yes, they do. Look at it this way: if the church adds just one member from their 2020 efforts, that means they have increased Sabbath attendance by more than 16 percent! How often does a big church in North America do that?
Will the South Newbury church do the work that is necessary to see the effort through? Just ask the members who have set their jaws and are spending time in prayer and preparation, and they will tell you that, by the grace of God, they think they can.