Small Church Success Story Stars “Miracle” the Chicken
After dropping down to single-digit membership, Percilla UMC in the East District has experienced resurgence in youngsters and new members who want to rebuild the children’s ministry. Their story, which features a chicken dubbed “Miracle,” is a true faith-builder.
The average age of Percilla UMC’s congregation quickly morphed from 71 to 35 in recent weeks, thanks, in part, to the arrival of two new families – and a willingness to make some visible and fundamental changes. “We haven’t had children in the congregation for over 20 years,” shares Rev. Carolyn Huntsman, “but this summer a family with a 7-year-old visited and decided they wanted to help our church grow.” In a matter of days, the new family recruited another family and the parents and children locked arms with current members to imagine a rebirth – starting with the first Vacation Bible School the church had hosted for decades.
According to Carolyn, two of the young girls decided it would be fun to have a VBS “campout”, and they invited other children to bring pillows and sleeping bags to the Fellowship Hall for a week of fun. “Through a team effort, we had all of the materials and snacks donated from another church and found several teenagers to help us for the week, and we averaged 17 in attendance,” adds Carolyn.
On the first day of VBS Camp, the children began a faith journey involving a chicken with a deformed foot. “One of our new families moved in just a few doors from the church and raises chickens,” explains Carolyn. “When the children heard one of them was missing, they immediately started praying – every day and night of VBS -- that God would protect it.”
On Sunday, Percilla UMC experienced a flip-flop from the normal routine as the children planned and led the entire church service. “Instead of having our sermon and kids time, our VBS children from age 5 to 13 led the singing, took up the offering and decided to have a grown-up time which involved planning and acting out a skit about going to heaven,” adds Carolyn, “and it was amazing!”
About 10 minutes into the kid-led service, the missing chicken was spotted on the church property, much to the glee of the youngsters. “The kids rushed outside and practically smothered the missing chicken, and exclaiming with some teary faces that God really heard and answered their prayers. It was a moment the children and adults will never forget.”
Member Sue Wright agrees, "It was a pleasure to have children take part in our church service. They took up the offering, prayed, and told us the ‘chicken story.’ That Sunday, after praying all week, God answered their prayers and brought the chicken home."
Choosing to Change
“We quickly drafted our new dads to be trustees since they can fix things much more quickly than 70-year olds,” notes Carolyn, “and since we now have a 1-year old coming to church, our new moms were able to get a crib and high chair donated for our revitalized nursery and a floor size printer for our offices.” To accommodate the younger members, the congregation has adjusted worship to include traditional and contemporary music – including bongo drum and guitar accompaniment. “Our older members are loving our new families and realizing that, without younger people involved, the church might have died,” says Carolyn, adding, “and they are handling the changes very well.”
Not only are the newest church members volunteering to help create new youth programs and events, they are focusing on the curb appeal of the church by recently replacing the sign and putting in a prayer garden on campus. This new energy is spilling over to influence the external perception and community awareness of the church. While longtime members did not expect anyone to attend, initially, in recent weeks and months, Percilla UMC hosted and invited the neighbors to a Faith and Freedom party and Fall Festival and quickly realized the community is taking notice. “We promoted our recent festival on the radio and on flyers throughout neighboring towns, and people came out for the kids’ games, chili tasting and silent auction,” she adds.
One of the 7-year-olds shared the faith-building story of “Miracle” the chicken at the recent District Charge Conference and was thrilled to get a standing ovation at the conclusion of the heartwarming tale.
Adds Carolyn, “Other churches might see us as their little mission project, but we are finding that you don’t know what will happen until you try! We have learned that there’s always hope. Now we are making plans with several other UMCs nearby for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s events and even hoping to host a church homecoming next spring.”
Twila Ybarra, one of the new members helping to re-energize the congregation by Investing in the Young, adds, "I am so excited to see what God has planned for Percilla church next! He is opening doors in our neighborhood and we are seeing His hand at work. We are thanking Him already for what He will do. There is a new spirit in our church and we can't wait to see what the future holds."