The city of Twin Falls perches beside the Snake River Canyon in southern Idaho. North of the city, the Perrine Bridge spans the expanse, nearly 500 feet above the river. The bridge is popular with BASE jumpers and may be the only manmade structure in the US where such jumping is legal year-round without a permit.
What is BASE jumping? Parachuting from a Building, Antenna, Span, or Earth (cliff or mountain).
In a way this type of jumping, leaping from a life-threatening height and trusting completely in one’s parachute, demonstrates the total trust in God exercised by members of New Covenant United Reformed Church in Twin Falls, Idaho. New Covenant is one of the smaller and more isolated congregations within URCNA. It is also unusually diverse.
“The church is very different from the churches I grew up in, which were basically Dutch Reformed,” Rev. Christopher Folkerts said. “More than once, I’ve told the congregation: ‘Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all’ (Col. 3:11).”
Rev. Folkerts explained that the congregation consists of people from a wide variety of ages and backgrounds (including some ex-Mormons), and members work in many different fields: agriculture, media, government, social services, fishery, landscaping, and other service industries.
“We have an eclectic group, individuals with unique stories, yet all united in the One whose story makes all the difference in the world,” he said. “When the grace of God is poured into our lives and the Spirit stitches our hearts together with the thread of God’s love, we see a beautiful tapestry that no single piece can display.”
Through Christ, he said, “Streams of living water refresh our hearts in this sagebrush wilderness we call home.” But the church is currently homeless.
For the last ten years, the congregation rented a Disciples of Christ facility, scheduling Sunday worship around that group’s service. The arrangement ended, however, when another congregation began to share the church building with a view toward a possible merger with the Disciples of Christ church. Since September, New Covenant has met for worship in a funeral home.
“It is a very beautiful place to worship compared to where we were before,” Rev. Folkerts said, noting that worship services have not conflicted with funeral services or family visitations, and that having no facility is “a good place to be” because it makes the congregation more consciously dependent.
Rev. Folkerts counsels at a coffee shop. Council meetings are held in a local office. On the first Saturday of each month, men and women meet for fellowship and study over breakfast. A discussion of Michael Horton’s Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples began as an office-bearer training course, but has grown into a men’s study group that meets once a month. A women’s Bible study group also meets once per month, and is currently studying Proverbs. The congregation prioritizes its Wednesday evening prayer meetings.
“Nothing can take the place of that,” Rev. Folkerts said. “Some of my sweetest and most blessed moments have come from our prayer meeting. There is nothing so precious as the hearts of God’s children bowing before the throne of grace in holy, united prayer.”
When discussing the joys of small church ministry, Rev. Folkerts spoke of the close relationships between pastor and people as well as within the congregation. Referring to Nathan’s parable about how much the owner of one sheep loved it, he said, “A pastor of a small flock has a special and tender love for the sheep, in part because he does not have as many.”
He compared a small congregation to a family, and said, “We cannot afford to be friends just with those who share similar interests. In a small church, we experience more deeply the feeling that we are really a family of God. We keenly feel that what unites us is Christ.”
Some challenges facing small churches involve a lack of personnel. When needs arise, the pastor and his wife often take on responsibilities that others would perform in a larger congregation. “In our situation,” he says, “this problem is compounded by the fact that most of our small flock lives anywhere from 20 to 50 miles away.”
Members of a small church feel stress or loss when even a small percentage becomes disconnected from the church or a family leaves.
“In a sense, you might say that in a small church the joys and the sorrows are both felt more strongly than I imagine they would in a church of 300 people.”
Asked what tools, strategies, or outreach methods he has found effective, Rev. Folkerts responded: “Prayer. Prayer. Prayer.”
“Honestly, we’ve tried all kinds of outreach methods and, after nine years of ministry, I have not seen a single person either come to faith or join our church through any of them. This is not to say that a church, whether small or big, shouldn’t utilize tools, strategies, or outreach methods. The problem with your question is the word ‘effective.’ How do I judge what is effective? The world typically judges ‘effective’ by counting heads (and dollars).”
“Here is what I have found,” he said. “If we are faithful in doing what God has called us to do, he will bless us. I have found repeatedly that I might be pouring myself out in one particular area, and God brings in new people or blesses the congregation in a very specific manner that is completely unrelated to what I was doing. I think God loves to do this because he clearly gets all the glory and I have no room to boast of anything. But I do not think that therefore our outreach was useless or should be stopped. God always gets the glory because God alone gives the increase!”
Rev. Folkerts explained that Twin Falls is located three hours north of Salt Lake City, Utah, but actually has a higher concentration of Mormons. Many Hispanics have come to the region to work in the agricultural industry. And the general populace exhibits the rugged individualism often typical of the western United States.
“The west is fiercely independent. I can’t tell you have many people have come and gone over the years simply because they could not accept any requirements related to church government, membership, accountability, or discipleship. It is Christianity on their own terms.”
When asked what larger congregations can do to assist smaller ones, Rev. Folkerts responded: “Pray. Pray. Pray.”
He added, “And give. Small churches can have a difficult time covering basic expenditures. Some classes have needy church funds, and this is a great display of the unity of Christ’s church, but sometimes those funds are limited. A little extra cash might enable a small church to build a website, hold a conference, buy evangelistic literature, or even be in a position to purchase their own building. The ownership of a building, while not essential to Christ’s church, is a great tool that gives people a sense of belonging and stability as well as providing it with a permanent place for worship and outreach. It also tells the community, ‘Here we are. Come and check us out.’ ”
He concluded, “And pray some more. Not just for small churches, but also for big churches, and not just for our churches but for God’s churches.”
New Covenant currently meets for worship at 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM at Rosenau Funeral Home, 2826 Addison Ave. E. in Twin Falls. The church is presently exploring the possibility of purchasing a former United Missionary Church building, which has been used as a private school for the last 30 years.
Rev. Folkerts said, “Our resources are limited, but God’s aren’t.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the November 5, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.