Most folks in Britt, Iowa, know each other. Many are related to each other. You don’t have to lock your doors.
Britt is a small town with a population of some 2,000 people. Local businesses line the main street, including the consignment store Bonnie’s Treasures, a hair salon called Cutting Corners, and a shoe store called The Cobbler Shoppe.
At the north end of the street stands a yellow building that looks like a machine shed—which is exactly what it used to be. But since the late 1990s the building has been home to Britt Christian Reformed Church.
Since this church was founded 50 years ago, it has been transforming from the inside out. Its current building reflects this process. When the old building became structurally unsound, church members bought a farm implement building. They redesigned and renovated the inside, inviting townspeople to help. On the first night, 85 people showed up.
Along with transforming the building, Britt CRC’s members have been transforming themselves. Prayer is a priority, as they listen for God’s plans for their church and take risks in following them. Marilyn Eckels, a member of the prayer team, says, “Our empowerment is in proportion to how much we really depend on the Spirit.”
Even in prayer the church focuses outward. Britt CRC sees itself as a community church; its pastor, Joel De Boer, is known as the town chaplain. Many new members have joined Britt because Pastor Joel or another member visited and prayed for them in times of crisis. One woman started attending the church with her family after her cancer miraculously went into remission; another man came after recovering from a coma.
Each year members invite about 100 new people to come to church. Those who attend are warmly welcomed. One visitor commented that people were so friendly during the coffee hour that “I thought I’d never get out of there!”
Many Britt residents had contact with churches in their youth but have since left the church. So the challenge for Britt CRC is to show that Christianity is for all seasons of life. Rather than putting energy into programs or structures, church members concentrate on becoming people who abide in Christ and extend his love.
To combat the danger of burnout that many smaller churches face, Britt has adopted an informal policy of asking its members to participate in only two ministries: one in which they serve and one in which they are fed. This has closed down some programs but has made the church healthier.
Britt CRC defines its parish as the 25-mile radius around the town. Every Sunday they pray for their neighbor churches. “It’s not important whether our church grows,” one member comments. “It’s important whether we, as a community, reach out to the unsaved.”
About the Author
Kristin Niehof is a graduate student at Regent College, Vancouver.