IBC Perspectives Volume 16 Issue 1 Matthew Martin A Small Town Church
Dewar, OK, was founded in 1907 with a few houses near the Number 7 coal mine. Its first church, “Little Green Mission,” was built in 1912.Dewar is still a small, blue-collar American town, with a population of 928 people. Its main industry is the nearby glass plant, along with the coal mines and agriculture. Sitting on the site of the first church, the “Little Green Mission,” is the Dewar United Pentecostal Church, with an average attendance of 210 more than 20 percent of the town’s population in Sunday School. “Our church is a little unusual because our town’s population is only 928,” Pastor Matthew Martin said. “It’s small-town America. We could knock every door in our town in one Saturday.”
The Challenges of a Small Town
Outreach in a small town can’t follow the patterns of churches in large cities, Bro. Martin said. “We can’t blitz the town with material because everyone already knows us,” he said. “We host functions for the schools regularly, things like baccalaureates and such.” One of the challenges we face is getting people to visit because they think they know everything about us before they get here,” he said. What has worked for the church in Dewar is one-on-one witnessing. “When people teach Home Bible Studies to friends and acquaintances, and they come to a service and feel the presence of the Lord, that is what works,” Bro. Martin said. The church has a New Converts Class for those who have just received the Holy Ghost. That way, the church is prepared to give each one immediate, one-on-one care. “Our motto is: ‘Reaching up to God, reaching out to others,'” he said. “We just did an evangelism month dedicated to how we can evangelize the community.” Bro. Martin divided the church into three groups: youth, young married couples, and those over 50. He had three teachers that rotated through the groups teaching lessons on: Reaching, Reviving and Retaining. “Reaching was about how we appeal to people to visit, how to answer questions, what to say and what not to say,” he said.” Reviving was about altar working; how we help them pray through,” he said. “And Retaining focused on visitor and new convert etiquette. For instance, one rule is that no visitor sits alone. There is always someone who sits with them.”
A Big History
The Apostolic message came to Dewar in 1917, and in a few years, the church relocated to the Little Green Mission. The church was affiliated with the United Pentecostal Church in 1949, and later that same year, the original building burned down. With $1,800 from the insurance company, the church built a block building on the same property. In 1950 Bro. M.D. Deal and his family came to Dewar to pastor. In the 1960s under his ministry came a face lift, indoor restrooms and air conditioning. In the 1970s two more buildings were purchased to house Sunday School classrooms. The 1980s brought more growth and enthusiasm, but Bro. Deal’s health began to deteriorate. In 1989 Bro. Martin preached at the Dewar church for the first time. Bro. Deal wanted to retire and was looking for a replacement. “It was a difficult assignment because the church loved him and begged him not to retire,” Bro. Martin said. Bro. Deal became Pastor Emeritus and Bro. Martin was elected pastor of the Dewar church on Dec. 31, 1989. At the time, Bro. Martin was only 28 years old, pastoring a church in Lone Grove, OK, with about 30 members. “It’s really a miracle I’m here because people with far more experience were interested in taking the church,” he said. “But the Lord saved it for us.” Dewar had an attendance of about 85 when the Martins arrived. “There were a lot of elderly people there when we came, and a few young couples,” he said. “We started a youth group with four kids, started a Bible quizzing team, started teaching Bible studies. Our youth attracted people of our age group.
“A year later Bro. Greg and Sis. Susie Joki moved to Dewar to be youth pastors and built the youth group from four members to a youth group with more than 50 kids. “We have so many young couples and children now, we had to start a nursery so these parents could get something out of church,” Bro. Martin said. The 1990s brought continued growth. The Little Green Mission church is long forgotten. Now the church property includes a sanctuary that seats 330, a children’s chapel, a youth chapel that seats 75 to 80, a large prayer room and the M.D. Deal Fellowship Center, a 10,500 square foot facility that houses the gym, kitchen facilities and classrooms. “Nobody would believe in a town this size that our sanctuary was paid off in 18 months,” Bro. Martin said. “Our church is debt free, a miracle in itself. Our people just give and support the work of the Lord. We support more than 100 missionaries, and in the last five years two of our ministers have left to start home mission churches.”
Priorities of Leadership
The priorities of a small town pastor aren’t much different from any other pastor. “Your relationship with the Lord has to be your top priority,” Bro. Martin said. “I’m a firm believer in early morning prayer. If you don’t get it done early, you may never get it done. “The second priority is taking care of your people. “Feeding the flock is number two,” he said. “You need to be there when they need you.” Children’s ministry is a very important part of the church, he said. “We’ve found that you have to build a children’s ministry, because it is the feeder system for a strong youth group,” he said. “One of our goals is for every child to have the Holy Ghost before leaving Trailblazers.” Bro. Martin has completely departmentalized the church ministries and established a leadership committee that includes every department in the church. It meets quarterly. The departments include: Trailblazers (children 5-11); Youth Alive (ages 12-18); College and Career (post high school through marriage); Preserving Christian Homes (PCH) (married couples through age 50); Young at Heart (ages 50 and up); Iron Sharpens Iron (men’s group); Ladies Ministries; and Sunday School. “At each meeting we have dinner together, review the previous quarter, have a leadership lesson and a devotional, and then plan the next quarter,” he said. “I ask each department to have at least one function on the calendar each quarter.” About 50 percent of the church is actively involved in some form of ministry. “I teach that everyone has a ministry, and everyone can help somebody,” he said.” Sometimes people are too shy to volunteer, but they qualify for a job,” he said. “We just have to invite them to be a part.”
The Personal Touch
Bro. Martin grew up going to Calvary Tabernacle in Indianapolis, IN, under the ministry of Bro. N.A. Urshan. He received the Holy Ghost at age 7 in a New Year’s revival. He can’t remember the day he felt called to the ministry. “As early as I can remember, it always seemed to be there,” he said. He graduated from Apostolic Bible Institute in 1982 and went on the evangelistic field. When he was 23 he took the pastorship at Lone Grove UPC in Oklahoma. His greatest influences have been his father, Bro. Urshan, Bro. R.D. Whalen and Bro. M.D. Deal. “My father isn’t a preacher, but he is a good Christian man,” he said. “And Bro. Whalen was instrumental in our coming to Oklahoma.” He invested a lot in my wife and me and taught me a lot from the ministry perspective,” he said. “Not being raised in a minister’s home, he really mentored us.” Since coming to Dewar Bro. Deal has been very influential. “Anything that has happened here has been with his full support,” he said. Bro. Martin likes to preach and teach on practical subjects and doctrinal material as well as revival and growth. “Sometimes you preach to potential, and sometimes you preach to need,” he said. “It’s not just about relevance but about bringing us to a higher place where God wants us to be.” Bro. Martin has served as the district editor of the Oklahoma Beacon, sectional youth leader and president, district youth secretary and president, a sectional presbyter and currently serves as District Superintendent. He and his wife Kala have two children: Meghan, 18, and Matthew Paul Martin II, 15.
What does work in a small town? For Bro. Martin, the important thing is practicing the Golden Rule. “My philosophy of leadership has always been to treat others like you’d want to be treated,” he said. “I’ve always considered how I’d want to be treated if I were sitting on the other side of the desk.”