Stretching 118 miles with a land mass of over 1,400 square miles, Long Island is the longest and largest of any island in the contiguous United States. Almost eight million people in that area results in over 5,000 people per square mile, making it one of the most densely populated areas of the country. On this heavily populated island, the disciples at West Sayville Reformed Bible Church follow Christ’s leading as he makes them fishers of men (Matthew 4:19).
Rev. Andrew Eenigenburg says, “Our small congregation is using all of our small strength to throw nets in an area which has plenty of fish.”
The church owns a large facility and grounds at 31 Rollstone Avenue in West Sayville. A constant stream of visitors finds their way to worship services, primarily through web-based resources.
“We pay special attention to our web capabilities, social media, and recordings,” Rev. Eenigenburg explains. “We’re not always the model in these, but we recognize that this is where we are being found by many.”
The easternmost church in Classis Eastern US of the URCNA, West Sayville is the only United Reformed Church on the island. Most newcomers to the church are totally unfamiliar with the Reformed faith. With that in mind, the congregation aims to make its “worship life welcoming and accessible” to visitors.
“We have done our best to welcome and introduce persons who are brand new to the Reformed faith to our worship, our fellowship, and our doctrine,” Rev. Eenigenburg says. “We want to show them the joy and strength of a Reformed perspective.”
The congregation demonstrates it faith by intentionally dedicating Sundays to worship and fellowship. Morning worship is at 9:30 AM, followed by a fellowship time during which members greet visitors. That is followed by Sunday school classes, after which the congregation shares a meal together each week. Then they return to worship for a second service at 2:00 PM. The church adopted this schedule at the beginning of 2010 for the purpose of encouraging deeper fellowship and community among members.
“It has been very important to simply spend more time together, and guard the Sabbath as a day for believers to worship, interact, and fellowship in the spirit of Jesus,” Rev. Eenigenburg says. “So we have purposed to stay together for the majority of the day.”
The schedule saves many members a “brutal double drive through New York and Long Island traffic,” but it also deepens the congregation’s practice of hospitality and facilitates the incorporation of new members.
“It’s important for us to explain why we do the things we do to this new influx of believers who have never been exposed to our Reformed heritage,” Rev. Eenigenburg says. “The very basics of our singing, our prayer, our giving, our creeds, our confessions, and our preaching need a little extra explanation to instruct and build up our new disciples.”
The church throws its net wide in a multitude of different waters. It hosts Bible studies, men’s breakfasts, women’s fellowships, prayer meetings, and youth group meetings. Elders disciple newcomers. The congregation joins together in hikes, barbeques, softball, apple picking, seafood fests, beach days, game nights, movie nights, Latin language instruction, picnics, kayak trips, camping and more.
“Our church participates in RMS and hosted two TASC programs in 2012 and 2014,” Rev. Eenigenburg says. “This is a huge undertaking for a church of our size.” These efforts positively influenced participants as well as benefitting local ministries that the church supports. Members of the congregation have participated in both national and regional RYS and RMS activities.
Rev. Eenigenburg adds, “And we host a significant Bible conference each October with high caliber speakers to engage our spiritual community.”
While the only URC on the island, the church enjoys fraternal fellowship with nearby OPC congregations and pursues ministerial fellowships for discussion on evangelism in the New York metro context.
As with many similarly-sized churches, West Sayville faces challenges and embraces joys unique in the life of a small congregation.
“It is a great joy and also a great challenge to know that we can’t hide. Our members can’t coast or just fade into the body and float along without notice. Those who are here must work together to honor the Lord in a culture that has turned away to money and distraction,” Rev. Eenigenburg says. “We are a cross section of very different people, and we have to learn to love each other deeply and from the heart. We know that we will not grow by children only, but it is essential to our existence that we make new disciples. And God has graciously provided them. Being small allows us to know one another well, and notice needs that might go unmet in a larger group.”
A specific challenge is dealing with changing membership as people come and go due to the transient nature of the area. “We are grappling with what it means to be a church that often plants and waters, but must be content to see others do the reaping,” West Sayville’s pastor says. “But, we thank the Lord for our part in building the Kingdom.”
He explains that the church has been careful about tools or strategies, seeking to use only the mean God desires for building his church. “We have disciplined ourselves to worship God honestly, joyfully, and with integrity in the midst of a culture that loves to be entertained and served. We have meditated carefully on what it means to keep the preaching and sacraments central and simple in worship for Christ’s glory.”
“So, you could say that our strategy is to worship God in simplicity but with holy power. Our tools are the gospel and the sacraments with seriousness but also great joy.”
When asked what larger congregations could do to help smaller churches, he says, “Pray for our evangelistic efforts in this combat outpost church so that people see the love of Christ through our love for one another. May God use our smallness to do mighty things! If you are a part of a big church then prove your bigness matters by being faithful in proportion to your size, and may Jesus grant you to be bigger than ever! We pray for you! That you will be faithful to reach out all the more with willing hearts down to the last man or woman.”
He adds, “And, of course, inquire about the condition of small congregations and church plants in your classis and send them financial aid when needed. They are your brothers and sisters, and your first responsibility. As a small church, we recognize that it is our privilege to contribute to the needs of the other churches even if our contributions are smaller. We take every request for aid from our sister churches seriously whether large or small. And we reject the thought that smaller churches don’t have to pay attention to the needs of others because of their smallness. If you need help, we’ll send you our widow’s coin in the mail. God will make it enough.”
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6-8 of the June 10, 2015, issue of Christian Renewal.