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
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.”
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
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 more information on church planting, visit
KIRK NOONAN is managing editor of Today’s Pentecostal
Evangel and blogs at Simple Plan (knoonan.agblogger.org).
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