The Power of Small Churches
Inspiration from a Small Congregation
St. Matthias, a mission church in Devine, Texas is the only Episcopal Church in Medina County and draws its members from surrounding towns and neighborhoods. A small church with a current ASA of 16, St. Matthias has relied on supply priests for the last 25 years, holding morning prayer services two to four Sundays a month. That has meant that their lay members had to step up to leadership roles, creating a wonderful legacy of worship and community outreach.
St. Matthias aims to be an inspiration for other churches. In the video below, the Reverend Dexter Lesieur, vicar of St. Matthias since last December, explains how its members use their talents and gifts to assist those in need and to invite and welcome others into their community of faith.
The Reverend Dexter Lesieur is currently the Vicar at St. Matthias, Devine, Texas, co-chair for the Diocese of West Texas (DWTX) Military Ministry, and member of the DWTX Congregational Development Committee and Core Teams. He retired from the Air Force (SMSgt) as a Czechoslovakian cryptologic linguist and motivational speaker. He is an Air Force 12 Outstanding Airman of the Year, Jimmy Doolittle Fellow, Military Family of the Year and coach of two world-champion problem-solving teams. Fr. Dexter has been married to Meg for 36 years and has two children and three grandchildren. He enjoys wine making and collecting ancient stone tool artifacts.
Transcript: Hi, my name is Dexter Lesieur, and as of December, I have served as vicar of St. Matthias in Devine, Texas. In this VLOG, I’ll be talking about the power of small churches.
Up until my posting at St. Matthias, they relied on supply priests for the last 25 years. They held Morning Prayer services two, three and sometimes four Sundays a month. This meant that lay members needed to step up to leadership roles, and this created a wonderful legacy of worship experience and community outreach. Instead of projects vying for attention or competing with each other, members could take an idea and run with it. This was a fantastic way to get people involved. Our ASA is 16.
Devine is nestled in South Central Texas among several ranching and farming communities with a 35 percent poverty rate. St. Matthias is blessed to be a small mission church. Being a small church doesn’t mean we do things small. We’re always willing to use parishioners’ talents and gifts to try new things in an effort to enhance our community of faith.
We have several community outreach programs. We provide hygiene products, women’s and children’s clothing, car seats, children’s toys and recovery journals to the county Women’s Shelter. Another outreach we’re involved with is HANK (Helping Abused and Neglected Kids) by providing toys, backpacks and clothing to their children. We also provide care packages and letters to deployed military overseas in our military ministry. We’re a part of the Diocesan Military Ministry in which I serve as co-chair.
We’re part of the community food pantry ministry, we serve up to 16,000 clients annually. We’ve had four parishioners serve on their executive board including president and ministry coordinator. As part of the Devine Ministerial Fellowship, which includes 20 area churches, parishioners can join with other Christians in a vast array of local community events and projects like the annual Mission Devine program that helps repair the homes of lower income and disabled folks.
And it doesn’t matter that we’re a small church. We enjoy taking the lead in initiatives. We volunteered and were selected to be the test model for rural areas for Project Mend. We collect used medical equipment that they sanitize and refurbish for veterans and their families. We had an outpouring of support from the surrounding communities – electric scooters, walkers, CPAP machines, wheelchairs. We received so many items. It was a true success story and we continue to collect items today.
When hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Coast, we found many area churches wanted to help but didn’t know how. Taking a cue from the Diocese, we became the rallying point for churches in the surrounding towns to donate emergency kits for folks recovering from the hurricane. We had churches of all faiths donate kits that were desperately needed.
I found the power of the small church in the parishioners, who are very willing to try anything for community outreach. This is where their creativity and innovation come into play. Everyone with an idea for improving the community of faith is listened to. If it works, great, and if it doesn’t, well…we tried.
As a small church, we are truly all-inclusive. We had a same-sex couple call and then come for a visit. They didn’t feel welcome at other churches, and after they visited us, they told me they felt St. Matthias could be their new church home. Fast forward a couple of years, and they’re now married. One is our church treasurer, and they’ve adopted a wonderful young teen who is our first acolyte in 15 years and was baptized on Easter.
We’ve taken advantage of our 80-year-old Army barracks, now our sanctuary, by embracing all military and veterans and their families. I’m retired from the Air Force, and we’re recognized as a veteran-friendly church. We have a sign out front welcoming veterans and trifolds on the entrance table listing all the bios of the military and veterans connected to St. Matthias. We also present Armor of God Challenge coins to any veteran that visits us.
When the pandemic hit, we instantly went to a cell phone propped up on some books for our first online services. We saw the power of the Holy Spirit as our online numbers steadily increased with viewing our services through Facebook, Facebook live and YouTube.
Our parishioners are motivated at handing out church contact cards (like this one) to everyone they meet, like contractors, repairmen, anyone who might be having a bad day or someone that’s having a really good day, without the fear of people having to talk about their faith. It’s so easy now – they just have to say, “Hey, we’re online; would you like to see one of our services?” We hand out polo shirts with our St. Matthias logo to our parishioners and they wear these when they’re out and about in the community.
We’ve had folks attend our services who first watched online. Gone are the days of walking into an unfamiliar church not knowing anyone. Folks can watch the service, see the people and even engage with each other during the service. As a result of our online and parishioner efforts, we realized we were reaching folks from different faiths, states and countries who had family members that were once connected to St. Matthias.
We started asking folks at the start of our service to list their names and we would share their names at announcements. This started real engagement and making connections for our online community.
Not only did we see Pat watching from New York who would say hello to Doug in Devine, but Julian in Florida would say hello to Sarah in Georgia and Robert in San Antonio would say hello to Alex in Slovakia.
We try to be an inspiration for other churches. We hope visitors who see or hear what our small church of 16 does, will feel inspired to carry that enthusiasm back their churches. It’s a mindset. Enthusiasm is really contagious, and we hope to infect everyone. While we happen to be a small church, we aren’t defined by our size. We have the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through our people.
- Feeding your soul in the small church, by Kevin Spears, Vestry Papers, September 2009
- Small Church Feeds Big Athletes, by Melodie Woerman, an ECF Vital Practices blog, April 4, 2014
- Reimagining Leadership in Small and Rural Churches by Kelsey Schuster, Susan Daughtry and Karen Olson, Vestry Papers, July 2017
- I'm Excited to See the Potential in the Rural Church by Peter Doddema, an ECF Vital Practices blog first published in Faith & Leadership and reposted with permission September 11, 2015