“Snapshots of Renewal” is a series in partnership with The Gospel Coalition New England that offers context-specific glimpses into the developing movement of the gospel in New England. This snapshot is provided by Stephen Witmer who serves as the pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, MA, and also as an adjunct professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has served in his current role since June of 2008. He is a regular blogger and author of two books. You can hear Stephen’s breakout session from TGCNE ’12 here.
Stephen Witmer: Pepperell is a town of 12,000 people located an hour northwest of Boston and fifteen minutes from Nashua, NH (we’re in Massachusetts but very close to the New Hampshire border). The population of the town consists of a blend of old-timer “townies” who have lived in Pepperell all their lives and people who have moved here in recent years, many of whom work in Boston or elsewhere inside the 495 loop. Pepperell used to have a paper mill and another factory or two, but these have shut down. A number of folks in Pepperell are quite politically conservative, and a large percentage of the population is Catholic.
TGCNE: If someone is passing through Pepperell, what must they take time to see, do, or hear?
SW: If you’re traveling through Pepperell, you should stop by our recently-rebuilt wooden covered bridge, maybe cycle a few miles on the Rail Trail (a popular bike path that runs from Ayer, MA to Nashua, NH and goes right through Pepperell), or grab some breakfast at Charlotte’s Cozy Kitchen or the Pepperell Spa. You’ll see plenty of beautiful horse farms in the area, and you might put a canoe in Heald Pond or do some fishing in the Nashua or Nissitissit Rivers.
TGCNE: How long has your church been in this community?
SW: Pepperell Christian Fellowship began in a living room in Pepperell about 25 years ago. That living room was rapidly outgrown and followed by rented space, then a renovated building on Main Street, and now a sanctuary built ten years ago. We’re located right in the center of Pepperell, on Main Street near the town library and town hall.
TGCNE: Give us a glimpse into a typical Sunday morning at your church.
SW: PCF is a nondenominational church with a friendly atmosphere and an earnest love for the Bible. We average about 180-190 people on Sunday mornings, with many young families. We’re growing and launched a second Sunday morning service last month.
TGCNE: What are some of the other gospel preaching churches in your area?
SW: I’m thankful for the other good churches in our area. There’s a Baptist church in Pepperell and there are evangelical churches in North Chelmsford, Tyngsboro, Dunstable, Townsend, and Hollis, NH. However, there are still towns in our area without any gospel-centered churches and we long to see new churches planted in these communities. We need more gospel workers in the rural areas of New England, outside the big cities.
TGCNE: Are there unique opportunities for gospel ministry in Pepperell that you feel are not being acted upon?
SW: There is a great need for gospel ministry in Pepperell and our surrounding area because there many people who do not know the gospel and/or are not trusting in Jesus. Pepperell needs gospel workers who will come here, live here, stay long-term, be involved in the community, and speak of and live for Jesus. As with many smaller towns and rural areas in New England, longevity counts. Relationship counts. After a few years in Pepperell, I have a circle of local friends at Dunkin’ Donuts and am recognized and greeted when I walk in. That has taken time.
TGCNE: Every ministry context comes with unique challenges. What often makes ministry in Pepperell difficult?
SW: The challenges of ministry in Pepperell are similar to the challenges in many other places. People are busy with work and children and recreation. Some are intrigued by the gospel; they come for a while but then fall away. Because many in this area are from a nominally religious background, they may believe they’re Christians even though they don’t really understand the gospel. One of the men in our church who recently became a Christian told me, ‘I thought I was a Christian until I became one.’
TGCNE: What tangible signs of gospel renewal are you currently seeing in Pepperell?
SW: We’re encouraged to see God working in and through our church. It’s been especially exciting to see a good number of conversions over the past few years, including young adults, young parents, and a man in his 70’s. God has also brought to us people who had not attended church for decades before they walked through our doors. Others who have come were attending churches that did not preach the gospel. We’re thrilled by this kind of growth. We also praise God for the high percentage of our congregation who have joined small groups in order to study the Bible, grow in relationship, and reach their local neighborhoods for Jesus.
TGCNE: How can other Christians pray for Pepperell and your church?
SW: Pepperell needs Jesus. Please pray for genuine, fruit-bearing conversions among the people of Pepperell and surrounding towns. Please pray that God would bring many unbelievers to fill the extra seats now that we’ve launched a second service, and that he would give our people a cheerful willingness to serve. Finally, pray for more gospel workers who would give their lives to planting and renewing churches in the small towns and rural areas of New England. You don’t come to a small town, and stay, for the glamour of it – you come because God calls you there and because you love to see him working.
Having learned a bit about what God is doing in Pepperell, take a moment to pray for Stephen, Peperell Christian Fellowship, and the community that they are seeking to reach with the good news of the gospel. Thank God for his renewing work all over New England, and be encouraged to speak and live out the gospel in your own context.
If you would like to add a snapshot of the gospel renewal that is happening in your community, contact email@example.com