I was 22 when I took my first pastorate, a small congregation in Fort Wayne, Indiana. At best we averaged forty-five people in worship.
Before that peak, we had one rough stretch. As some members moved and others went away for the summer, our average attendance over a five-month stretch dropped steadily from forty-seven to forty-four to thirty-three to twenty-two and finally, by the middle of August, to eleven.
One Sunday morning only eight people attended church. When my family came back for the evening service, nobody else showed. No one.
I sat discouraged in the front row next to Anna, my wife, and our baby, who was lying in a bassinet.
I already was defeated after the morning service, but now I felt simply awful. What in the world am I doing here? I thought. If we had had enough money, I would have packed my family in the car and left town. But we didn't have it.
As I was sitting there, I made what I later realized was a crucial decision.
"Honey," I said to my wife, "you stay here with the baby and kneel. I'm going to the nursery to pray. If I we don't pray right now, this will beat us."
While praying in the nursery, I saw a mental picture of the church building on fire-not burning up, but flames were going up from the building, and the cinders were blowing east of the church and raining on top of houses, igniting them. I felt the Lord was telling me he was still intending to bring his "fire" to that church.
I was strengthened and encouraged to stay at the church, which I did for another two years. I can't say the church exploded with Spirit-filled enthusiasm after that. In fact, it never became much larger than it was at its peak. But in those two years, we had a number of families from that housing development to the east ...