The church that wouldn't sell
I sat alone in the gathering of pastors as the topic of our evening meeting turned to the subject of prayer. This was not an uncommon occurrence in our conference ministerial meetings, but this time something moved me. One of my colleagues began to share a story of how he gathered his elders early in the morning once a week to intercede for a person in desperate need. The situation was grave. As a result of their pleading, God intervened in a miraculous way.
As I listened to his account, I sensed God’s call to take action.
Our congregation had recently purchased a new building. The former church facility sat on a postage-stamp parcel on a busy street adjacent to the city fire department. While the quaint white church was a historic landmark in our town, the cramped facilities, lack of parking, and occasional wailing fire truck were more than occasional inconveniences.
Our spacious new church building had a dated interior and required a number of maintenance projects. But it sat on two acres, had an accom-modating parking lot, and included a parsonage next door. Originally listed for $785,000 just three years prior, our congregation purchased the facility for $185,000—a discount of $600,000! God heard the prayers of our congregation and abundantly provided for our needs.
Our first Sabbath in the new facility was Mother’s Day weekend. By Labor Day, we realized we had a problem. The old church just wouldn’t sell. Utilities and maintenance costs on two churches combined with mortgage payments to the union revolving fund were beginning to challenge our church budget. With the winter looming, we knew that something had to give.
After hearing my colleague’s story and his emphasis on sacrificial, united prayer, I sent letters to my entire congregation inviting them to take part in something radical. I asked our membership to join me twice each week at five thirty in the morning to pray for about an hour and a half. We followed the simple united prayer model that we’d discovered while participating in the Ten Days of Prayer initiative for two consecutive years.
At first, 15 people attended. Then it dwindled to 10. When the snow started to fly, we settled on 5. But we persisted. Shortly after the dawn of the new year, our old church sold—for the exact price that we had purchased the new building: $185,000. Of course, there were fees on the purchase of the new church and the sale of the old, but the symbolism was too clear to miss. God swapped churches for us and got us into a facility that allowed us to better serve and minister to the community.
I’ll never forget our last business meeting in that old, unheated building. A contractor had purchased the facility to turn it into a lavish single-family home. He graciously allowed us to meet there one last time. A small crowd gathered in the cold to reminisce over the weddings, funerals of loved ones, and baptisms that brought new life into the congregation. We sang a song and thanked God for what He had done to sell the old church.
But that was not the end of the story. As we continued to pray, we saw people surrender their lives to Christ who had formerly struggled to make a decision. And in the congregation’s sister church, a small group of men began gathering each Thursday morning to pray for their church’s ministry in the community. The following year, that little country church was blessed with its own spiritual and numerical growth.
Through these experiences, God taught me many things about united prayer. Numbers aren’t everything, but consistency is. Prayer is not about convincing God to bless us as much as it is God preparing us to receive the blessings He has for us. And when God’s people set aside time to pray—especially when accompanied by a personal sacrifice—we have His attention, and He will move on His own behalf to glorify Himself.
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