Pastor’s Column: Growing Rural Motley Church from Single Digits to 300

This is a part of our “Growing and Thriving Rural Churches” Series. We asked Jim Johnson the pastor of Motley Free Methodist Church to share how Motley FMC has grown from less than a dozen attendees to averaging nearly 300 in worship.
An Aging, Shrinking Church

Motley Free Methodist Church was established in Motley in the 1890s. It has a long history of rich “camp meetings” and evangelistic outreach. While the church was never very big (5-50) it had purpose; people met the Lord Jesus Christ in transformational ways over the decades.

In 2002, with a congregation of less than a dozen people who were aging fast, it wouldn’t have appeared by human perspective that there was much left to offer the good folks of Motley and its rural community. But for some reason God didn’t see it that way. I guess too much of the time we look at things through the human lens, and often see things as helpless or hopeless before we ever include God in the thought process.

Call for Help

I had never heard of a Free Methodist church in Motley. Even though I have lived in a community just a few miles away my entire life, I had grown up in a different denomination. But when God called me, my wife and our family into the ministry it just so happened the call came through the Free Methodist pastor, to come “help” at the Free Methodist church.

I was already a production manager at the local factory and a farmer, and really did not have time or thoughts of being a pastor. But the call of God was too strong to ignore and after some months of praying, I simply said “If you can use me Lord, here I am, send me,” so we went to help at the Motley FMC.

Within 6 months the pastor in need of help left the church. Which left us with very few people, a 110-year-old building, and no pastor, except me. By this time I was now working on ordination in the Free Methodist Church, working a very full time management job and farming a little when I got home.

Watching the Lord Work

I tell you all of this background to show you that this is a work of God. No credit goes to me.  God gets the glory for the work He has done in Motley in this last 10-13 years. Miracles of God have happened here. Miracles of lives transformed, addicts set free, murderers coming to Jesus Christ as Lord, physical healings and marriages restored. God gets the glory for all of that.

Begin with Prayer

Because I had no claim to fame, no experience being a pastor and not even sure what God wanted from me… we began to pray.

After seeing what God has done at Motley FMC this past decade and what God is doing I believe in prayer. Over those first few years we had several different 40-day prayer events where many of us prayed in the church every day. The Lord impressed upon me to learn to fast and pray. So over and over again, we called for fasting and prayer.

Today we have several different prayer meetings throughout the week where we do nothing but pray. II Chronicles 7:14 is one of my favorite Old Testament verses and it reminds me to pray. It reminds me, as God’s people if we ever want to see the hand of God in our lives, in our churches and in our nation, God’s people need to humble ourselves and seek His face and repent and pray. These are all prerequisites to God forgiving us and healing us, according to that verse.

I just want to reiterate the power of praying people. We have seen God move and God answer prayer in hundreds of ways. We praise God for that. Prayer and fasting cannot be underestimated for any believer, or any church.

Making Contact with People

The other thing that we have found to be to our benefit is to “make contact’. Going and visiting people is easy for me because I have been here all my life and I managed the local factory for 20 years, so I probably know most of the people in our community. Making contact and befriending people and just getting to know them is important for us in rural communities. We don’t hang out on the front porch anymore in America. But the church should make an effort to go and get to know our neighbors and love our neighbors in meaningful and tangible ways.

As a small town church, I want to intentionally reach out to people who are looked at as “different”. We want to minister to the minority. We want to minister to the single mom and her kids. We want to minister to those in jails and prison. We want to help put the roof back on the house of a pair of lesbian women. Why do we want to reach out to “others?” Because we feel that is what Jesus did, and actually instructed us to do.

We want to make an attempt to become part of the “other” people’s lives and invite them to church and more importantly invite them to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Offer Appropriate Programs

We have a lot of ministries going on here now for our community’s children. We want to invite children of all backgrounds to AWANA club and our VBS and youth groups. I want to be able to minister to people who have lost their loved ones to death and have no church. We have done over 120 funerals in the 10 years that I have been here, most of them people in the community that need to be ministered to and have no connection to our church at all.

Love the Lord

We want to make contact. We want to love our neighbors. We want to be “salt and light” every time an opportunity presents itself. We really do want to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts and souls and minds, and in loving the Lord God; love those around us regardless of who they are and where their lives have taken them.

We do ask people to surrender their lives to Christ; we do ask people to be accountable. We do invite people to grow (discipleship) in their faith and not just stay like “we used to be.” God has blessed us and we feel very strongly that we need to be a blessing to others.

Grown to Nearly 300 Worshippers

Today, all praise and glory to God, we do have near 300 worshipping with us each Sunday. We have a brand new building that we can do even more ministry from, with virtually no debt. That is another long story, but God gets the credit there too.

We love to support missionaries both abroad and missions work right here in Motley and our area. We believe that if we are genuine about our walk with Jesus and sincere in our love for our neighbors, there are huge opportunities for ministry and growth even in small town America. Thank you, may God bless you as you serve Him.

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Pastor Jim Johnson has been the senior pastor (by default, because there was no one else, he says) at Motley Free Methodist Church in Motley, MN since 2002. He previously was a Production Manager at Trident Seasfood’s Production Plant in Motley. Pastor Jim is seen here with his wife, Sheri.

4 Comments
  1. I am a member of a church not far from here and I have watched this church grow. I have never seen a church body love each other and pray for one another like this church. As someone on the outside looking in I would say this; This is a humble pastor and his wife who genuinely love the sheep God gave them, and truly care for hurting, broken people who need Jesus. I praise the Lord for this church and for the light they are in a dark world.

  2. If only a fraction of our churches in the world would be as alive and compassionate as the Motley Free Church has been, this world would be so different!

  3. The Motley Free Church “began to pray”. This must be first on the agenda and driving passion of any church plant, church restart, and church renewal. Great article and testimony by this pastor.

  4. I know Jim and Sheri, and every word of the article is true – especially that every good thing starts with prayer and simply making contact in Christ’s loving name in Christ’s loving way. But I’d like to add at the beginning of a large building project, the church was faced with a international partner ministering to bring Christ to Muslims under much persecution, and elected to give almost all of their building fund to this ministry oversees. God blessed that ministry tremendously and has quickly, through the Lord’s faithful people, replenished the needs of the Motley FMC to get back to their building project. Every step of the way, this church puts Jesus first… and all the other things are added unto them.

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