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7/29/97 Church’s growth fueled by ‘traditional’ fare

POWDERSVILLE, S.C. (BP)–Pastor Jack Hester may tell you First Baptist Church is 25 years behind everybody else, but it really isn’t.
The Powdersville, S.C., congregation is growing, plain and simple. The only thing that some would say is 25 years behind is its traditional worship service, children’s church, emphasis on Tuesday night visitation and those staples of Southern Baptist life, Woman’s Missionary Union and Brotherhood organizations.
Evidence that tradition works at First Baptist since 1990:
— Baptisms have increased from 16 in 1990 to 52 in 1996.
— Membership has increased from about 400 to more than 700.
— Sunday school attendance has increased from 100 to almost 300.
— Giving has tripled.
A traditional menu, as the numbers show, is packing them in at this once-country church. Most Sunday school classrooms are filled to capacity and guests and members alike are parking on the grassy yard because the parking lot is full.
Fortunately — or rather, because of God-given insight on the part of church leaders — there is plenty of physical room for growth. First Baptist sits on 22 acres of prime property in Powdersville, a burgeoning bedroom community about five miles outside Greenville. Hester says the church plans to expand facilities on the $90,000-an-acre property once its current debt from recent renovations is paid.
That shouldn’t take long. This year, giving is already over budget — or the “spending guidelines,” as Hester calls it.
The numbers are only part of the picture, though. The heart of church members, Hester believes, is right in touch with God’s.
“We had a need for a new sound system — the old one was just terrible,” he explains, “and so we brought this need before the church body, told them the system we needed to get would cost about $13,000 dollars, and immediately one member said he’d loan us $9,000 so we could go ahead and get the system as soon as possible. That’s the way everything goes here.
“Our deacons meetings turn into revival 90 percent of the time,” he says. “I’m more inspired when I leave than when I got there. We don’t discuss the color of the carpet — it’s questions about empowering the kingdom of God.”
A group of members traveled to West Virginia as part of a missions partnership in July, and associate pastor Bryan Hester and one of the youth ventured to Romania in June.
Bryan’s last name is not coincidentally the same as Jack’s — they are a father/son ministry team. Bryan, who has a master’s degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, is minister of music.
“Our music ministry is out of this world, and I’m not just saying that because my son happens to lead it,” says Jack, who has been pastor at three churches in the past 47 years.
“We’re conservative and evangelistic. We have strong Bible teaching and preaching. We’re not liberal, we’re not fanatic. We are old-fashioned. I guess you’d say we’re about 25 years behind everybody else,” he says. “But there is trust throughout the congregation and staff, and that has been a turning point for growth.”
First Baptist hasn’t always been a growing church. In 1991, when Jack first heard about the eight-year-old church, it was averaging 60 in Sunday school.
“We were paying our bills, but nothing else,” says Hugh Anderson, chairman of the deacons. “There was no one on staff, and when we asked Jack to come, we couldn’t even promise a steady salary.
“God just turned this place around,” Anderson says.

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  • Amanda Phifer