News Articles

Down to a dozen members, they embraced a new future

LAYTONSVILLE, Md. (BP)–The small contingency gathered in the evenings, fearful, saddened, yet excited by their plans. There was no other choice. Life support had to be withdrawn.

Such was the dilemma of Ron Blankenship, director of missions for the Montgomery Baptist Association in Maryland, and the small congregation of Laytonsville Baptist Church.

Only if the church ceased to exist could they birth the new: MorningStar Community Church.

So the building closed for six months. On Easter Sunday morning, MorningStar Community Church launched.

The story began about six months before the church closed. Twelve members of the Laytonsville church went to Blankenship when their pastor resigned, seeking pulpit supply and consultation.

The association and the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware helped them financially. But after six months, the attendance had dropped to about seven. Blankenship knew that restart was probably the best option, but refrained from suggesting it at that point.

“It was a process,” he said. “We had tried several things. I did not say, ‘You have to restart.’ That was one of the options. I did not want them to think someone was coming to take them over. They were very vulnerable. For anyone to come in to them and say, ‘You need to die and restart,’ would turn them away from the start,” Blankenship said. “It’s a matter of trust.

While the church “literally was dead,” Blankenship said the members wanted “to make it on their own. The most difficult thing with a church restart is to convince them that they must die so they can live again.” Blankenship spent time with them, preaching and just being with them, “showing them I love them.”

They met on Wednesdays for Bible study, prayer and re-dreaming studies. They also concentrated on their core values: who they were, where they were going and how they were going to get there. When they reached a point of listing barriers to their goals, they couldn’t get any further. They couldn’t get past the barriers.

At that point, Blankenship removed himself to allow the congregation to spend time meeting together to pray and also to call for corporate repentance.

The church was dealing with fear at that point, justified fear — fear of dying, loss of identity, loss of facilities, loss of resources. They were tired and burned out.

“I was dealing with a cinder,” Blankenship said.

One of the problems, he said, was that the community and church were mismatched. The neighborhood was primarily baby busters and boomers. Members of the church were senior adults.

If you call a new pastor and begin again, Blankenship explained to them, how will he lead you into the future? Where will he get the resources? Pulpit supply was running out. He would still be dealing with the same problems.

But if you re-start as a new church plant, there will be resources — $75,000 to $100,000, a young man, a core group in their 20s and 30s, a consultant and support from a parent church. They could even supply about $10,000 for advertising and “fishnet” activities like a carnival.

“It wasn’t easy,” Charles Gibson said. Gibson was a founding member of the Laytonsville congregation, meeting with the original members in 1965. Gibson’s biggest fear was that the church would close down.

“The first time it shocked me,” Gibson said regarding Blankenship’s proposal for Laytonsville to die and a new church begin.

Blankenship “explained more and more about the process, how we had to get rid of the old image and become a brand-new church. After about four meetings, I accepted it,” Gibson said. There was some sadness, he admitted. He had seen Laytonsville grow from a small group in a home, to meetings in an elementary school and the building of the current structure in 1970. The church had its ups and downs over the years, but discontentment began to spread about a year ago and people began leaving.

The church agreed with Blankenship, who arranged a meeting for the members with Ray Hope, pastor of Montrose (Md.) Baptist Church, which parented MorningStar, and Carey Snellings, the church planter.

God had been preparing Snellings long before MorningStar was ready for him.

“I lived on the other side full-tilt and when I serve the Lord I serve him full-tilt.”

The 29-year-old young man exudes energy and excitement about the church.

He can barely wait to talk about the story of MorningStar or to show the facility and point out the changes.

Snellings was saved and baptized at Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville under the leadership of his mentor, Ray Hope. Hope also performed the ceremony when Snellings and his wife, Jennifer, were married.

When the young man knew God wanted him to enter the ministry, he told Hope. Snellings didn’t know how God would do it, but he knew he was destined for ministry. He was working 20 hours a week at a deli waiting tables. But Snellings believed God used that situation to keep him working part-time so he would have time to throw himself into lay ministry and to keep him humble.

He started a Christ-based drug and alcohol 12-step program and a “connections” group for adults with active lifestyles. Hope saw the potential in Snellings, he knew his heart was with the ministry, and offered him a job as minister of new members.

Montrose has been very active in the church-planting movement: After planting North Star Community Church in New Market last year, the church wanted to plant another one.

When Hope asked Snellings if he was ready to plant the church, Snellings said yes immediately.

Hope mentored Snellings, teaching him how to be a pastor. Kevin Marsico, North Star’s pastor, also helped mentor Snellings, while Blankenship taught Snellings how to be a church planter. When Laytonsville needed him, he was ready.

Hope and Snellings met with the congregation. Hope told them they were going to change lots of things, such as the music.

“They said, ‘Lets go for it,'” Snellings said.

So the group of seniors paired with Snellings and a core group of about 40 from Montrose.

The core members got to work. They knocked down walls, expanded the capacity of the sanctuary from 80 to 200, removed the pews and brought in chairs. They put small café-style tables in the back of the worship area. In addition, they replaced windows, stenciled the bathrooms, removed the old outside stairs and installed a huge ramp with a patio on the side and built a playground. Everything was painted, mostly white. They also mulched the grounds and planted.

Snellings is pleased with the results. He’s a detail man who designed most of the changes himself.

To tantalize the community while the work was progressing, the church put up new signs that read “Curious?” and “Having Fun?” along with a new MorningStar Community Church sign.

It worked. On launch day, Easter Sunday, 188 packed the sanctuary. Now the church averages about 100 each week and people are making first-time commitments.

“It’s going very well,” longtime member Gibson said.

At first, Gibson said it was tough getting used to the new contemporary services.

“I am becoming more and more pleased with it. Last week they brought in bongo drums and played ‘Victory In Jesus.’ For an old Southern Baptist, that was new. I like to see so much interest and activity. We must have more than 15 kids in the children’s church each Sunday.

“Carey has such tremendous vision and energy,” Gibson said. “He’s on top of everything, the reconstruction, preparation, remodeling, the image — he’s an amazing person. Everybody likes his preaching style.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: FRESH START and REBIRTHING A CHURCH.

    About the Author

  • Sharon Mager