In an article by Shawn McMullen about smaller churches for the Christian Standard, he writes:
KALKASKA CHURCH OF CHRIST
Thirty years ago God called Dan Johnson and his family to the ministry of the Church of Christ in Kalkaska, a small community in northern Michigan. When Dan arrived, the church was small and stable but not thriving.
The previous senior minister, who had served faithfully for nearly two decades, had resigned nearly a year before. The congregation was approaching its 100th anniversary and had seen a significant decline in attendance. The small rural community itself was experiencing an economic and population downturn.
Less than a year after Dan’s arrival the associate minister, the only other minister on staff, departed on friendly terms for another ministry opportunity.
Dan, trying to find his way forward, attended a church growth conference where he explained his situation to the presenter. To Dan’s dismay, the presenter acknowledged that his potential for success was limited and encouraged him to find another church with greater possibilities.
At about that same time, a hard-working, blue-collar deacon approached Dan and asked if he could pray with him before the start of each Sunday worship service—something Dan confesses he had never before considered. Today Dan views that moment as a turning point that helped move the church from its slow and steady decline to a sustained season of health and growth.
Together Dan and the deacon began to seek God’s blessing and favor. They prayed for wisdom to lead the church into God’s preferred future. They prayed for the lost, for the saved, and for the strays. They prayed for Dan’s preaching.
Soon other men joined the two in prayer. From there Dan personally recruited 30 men in the congregation to be part of a group known as the Preacher’s Prayer Partners. He asked them to pray one day a month for him, his family, and his ministry. Each week’s prayer partners met to pray early Sunday morning, asking God to bless Dan’s preaching, empower it with his Holy Spirit, and cause it to be effective in the lives of the members.
God heard and answered their prayers. The spirit of the congregation began to improve. Their outlook became brighter. Dan’s preaching improved. There was more unity and harmony in the congregation. Attendance rose and participation broadened.
Bolstered by the power of prayer, Dan determined to become a better leader and to help the elders of the church become better leaders. They prayed together, read books together, attended conferences together, and went on retreats together. They learned to understand one another, trust one another, rely on one another, and forgive one another. They learned to confront conflict and criticism together and to make “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” a hallmark of the congregation.
The elders began to invest more time in the Scriptures, more passion in prayer, and more sacrifice in giving. God honored their commitments as the congregation followed their example, slowly but surely.
As the leaders grew, they often took significant risks to encourage people to serve in unusual ways, including allowing a church member who was a former exotic dancer and drug addict to begin a ministry to women in a local strip club.
One ministry that made a big impact on the community was the brainchild of a young mom who had a heart for people who were struggling to provide gifts for their children at Christmas. She approached the elders with a plan to solicit new and like-new toys and clothing to distribute to the community. The plan was simple. The enthusiasm of the church was evident. The response was overwhelming.
The event has now grown to serve more than 300 families in the community annually. Donated items are beautifully displayed for holiday “shoppers.” The church provides a free coffee and cookie bar, free gift-wrapping, and “elves” who carry shoppers’ packages to their cars. One family who owns a tree farm generously donates Christmas trees to the families as well.
In providing for families in this way, the church doesn’t ask for names, phone numbers, or personal financial information. There is no requirement to attend a worship service. The church simply provides the service in the name of Jesus so that everyone in their community can have “A Merry Little Christmas”—the name of the event.
Dan Johnson recently retired from the church, and the congregation is now led by Andy Bratton, a gifted leader and shepherd. And the small and declining church now averages more than 400 in weekly worship.