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Never too old

Octogenarian plants rural church

By Kirk Noonan

Eldon McNaughton, 82, has outlived two wives, endured several surgeries and has retired three times. None of those realities, nor his age, has stopped him from planting a church in a rural corner of Wyoming 150 miles south of Jackson Hole.

“When I learned the Wyoming District [of the Assemblies of God] was looking for someone to plant a church in Kemmerer, my first reaction was, ‘I’m too old for that,’ ” McNaughton admits. “But one morning while praying I felt like God said to me, ‘If you’ll take the job, I’ll give you the strength to do it.’ ”

In November 2007, McNaughton and his wife, Kay, moved from their home in Parker, Colo., to Kemmerer, a community of 5,000 residents in Wyoming’s high desert.

Since moving, the couple has assembled a core group of believers, started weekly services and begun to restore the church and parsonage the district purchased.

Steve Pike, director of the AG’s Church Multiplication Network, admits the McNaughtons defy the typical demographics of church planters. But, he adds, they have proven to be up to the task.

“Starting new communities of discipleship is for any person called to do it,” Pike says. “The McNaughtons are examples of leaders who want to make a difference regardless of their ages.”

Eldon McNaughton says his interest in planting the church was piqued after his son, David, also a church planter, forwarded him an e-mail detailing the need for a church in Kemmerer.

“I thought if my dad was 20 years younger he might want to do it,” David McNaughton, 48, says. “But he’s proof that church planting isn’t just for young people.”

Indeed.

McNaughton was ordained with the AG in 1958. He spent most of his ministry years leading small churches in rural America. Though he had envisioned a much different retirement than he has had, he says, church planting is invigorating, challenging and satisfying. To prepare for his new position he attended an AG Church Planting BootCamp.

“It was inspirational,” he says of the training he received. “It challenged me, and I learned of things I had not been involved with in the past.”

Pike says church planters are crucial to reversing a disturbing trend in church attendance. He points to reports that show that in 1990 a little more than 20 percent of the American population could be found in a Christian worship service on any given Sunday. By 2006, that number had decreased to about 17 percent.

“American Christians overestimate the presence of the church in America,” Pike says. “The painful truth is that in spite of all of our efforts over the last couple of decades the growth of the church in America has fallen dramatically behind the growth of the population. Planting churches gets us back into the field of ministry and, when done properly, renews our focus on and effectiveness at reaching lost people.”

One of the reasons the Wyoming District targeted Kemmerer is because many churches in the area — including the AG church — had been shuttered or were operating without a pastor.

“The people were longing for an evangelical presence,” McNaughton says. “Because of it, word got out quickly that there was going to be a new church in town.”

Each Sunday evening more than 30 worshippers gather at Hams Fork Community Church. Many of the attendees are miners; others work for the state or as educators. The McNaughtons say they will officially launch the church in the fall. Until then, they will continue to restore the parsonage and disciple and grow their core group.

“I never had any idea this would happen to me,” Eldon McNaughton says. “But as long as I have strength and breath, I’ll do something for God.”


For more information on church planting, visit www.churchmultiplicationnetwork.org.

KIRK NOONAN is managing editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel and blogs at Simple Plan (knoonan.agblogger.org).

E-mail your comments to tpe@ag.org.

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