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Church grows by pointing people to God’s Word

RICHMOND HILL, Ga. (BP)–More than 950 people have been baptized in the last five years at the Savannah-area First Baptist Church in Richmond Hill -– the second stop on Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch’s national bus tour.

“We believe in using a lot of different kinds of evangelism,” said Keith Joseph, the Georgia church’s pastor for the past six months. “It takes a lot of prayer and a lot of penetration in the community, and a strong biblical presentation, and there’s got to be a passion to love people as Jesus did.”

Welch visited the church during the evening of Aug. 29 after launching the tour at First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla. Through the national initiative, Welch is seeking to generate a sense of urgency about evangelism among Southern Baptists. The tour is a kickoff for “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

Joseph knows about evangelism. He started his previous church, Emmanuel Baptist in Stanton, Ky., with 15 people; in less than six years, more than 600 were attending worship.

At First Richmond Hill, about 900 attend two Sunday morning services; about 650 people attend three Sunday Schools.

“We’re a needs-based church,” Joseph said. “When folks come here, they find answers from the Word of God.”

As an illustration, the pastor recounted, “Last weekend a young man came forward, committing his life to Christ. He and his wife were about to divorce. He received Christ on Sunday and on Monday he and his wife were reconciled.”

Southern Baptists’ FAITH strategy of Sunday School growth is a major component of First Richmond Hill’s evangelistic strategy, with more than 400 members have being trained in FAITH outreach.

The church also has a “Neighborhood Watch” program with a Christian twist. Members stay alert to new people moving into their neighborhood and pass the addresses on to the church. The church sends out a gift bag, including tickets for a Wednesday night fellowship meal at the church.

About 300 youngsters are in First Richmond Hill’s AWANA program; about 120 adults work with them in Bible study and memorization.

More than 150 youngsters enrolled last year in the evangelistic Upward Soccer program; leaders expect 200 or more for the fall 2004 season.

First Richmond Hill also takes seriously its geographic relationship to nearby Fort Stewart, home of the Army’s 3rd Infantry.

“We do a program called ‘Preparing for Separation’ to help families get ready for deployment,” Joseph said. “We also take care of the families while the soldiers are gone. We’ll cut the grass, change the oil, do what needs done to keep the family going.”

Families are the church’s first priority, the pastor said. A recent staff reorganization provided for the church’s first family life minister, responsible for everything related to families.

“This is a military town,” Joseph said. “We have the opportunity to affect hundreds of thousands of lives as we train them and send them out to their next tour of duty. Also, the community itself is exploding with growth, mostly with young families, so we have the opportunity there to affect the next generations.”

The church is in the early stages of building a family life center, to be completed in 2006.

“Then we’ll build a new worship center,” the pastor said. “We’ll go back to three worship services and use the family life center for overflow until then, but that’s alright. Children are our first priority here.”

First Richmond Hill plans to start a radio ministry and, on a local cable station, a television ministry in January.

“As we let our light shine here in Richmond Hill, we pray that God would then allow that light to touch all the people in southeast Georgia and beyond,” Joseph said. “Daily we are inviting people to come to this lighthouse for deliverance and direction. My prayer is the prayer of the Apostle Paul in Romans 10:1 –- ‘My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them (my people) is that they may be saved.’

“To know how to be saved,” the pastor added, “e-mail me or one of my staff at www.richmondhill.org.”