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Dying church revitalized, called ‘a Lazarus story’

EASLEY, S.C. (BP) — When its copier was repossessed, Powdersville First Baptist Church believed the end was near.

The remaining members drew up papers turning the church’s property over to the next-door neighbors. Former members heard the news and started returning, praying for God’s direction. That was nine years ago.

“It’s a Lazarus story,” Pastor Brad Atkins told Baptist Press. “The Cooperative Program had a lot to do with it.”

As the once-vibrant church that started in 1983 withered by January 2006 in the wake of a church scandal, its missions giving shriveled to zero in order to keep the lights on and mortgage paid. Atkins, 16 years in fulltime ministry and leading a worship center overflow class at a large church, accepted a call to the troubled congregation in Easley, S.C. It’s his first senior pastor role.

“The first thing I told them was that we had to start investing in the Kingdom,” Atkins said. “We started off with 5 percent to missions through the Cooperative Program and 5 percent to Piedmont Baptist Association, because the director of missions had supply-preached and his wife played the piano to help keep the church afloat.

“In the years following, we started increasing and today we’re giving 10 percent to missions through CP, 3 percent to the association, and 3.5 percent to the church’s four church plants and other ministries.”

Church attendance has rebounded to an average of 350 in Sunday worship services today, from an average low of 30 in January 2006. The Cooperative Program gives the church a global impact, Atkins tells his congregation.

“We can’t send out 5,000 international missionaries ourselves, but through the Cooperative Program, we’re part of that,” the pastor continued. “The Cooperative Program allows our church to be globally minded. We’re having an impact for the Kingdom!”

Powdersville First Baptist Church has draped the walls of its worship center with flags from all the states and nations the church has ministered in on mission trips over the last nine years.

“It’s just a visual reminder that when you put your offering in the plate, it doesn’t stay in Easley,” Atkins said. “It goes all over the world.”

Church plants, local ministries and national and international mission trips illustrate the church’s commitment to actively participate in missions while giving financially. One of its church plants is five minutes away in Easley. Others are in Xenia, Ill., Baltimore, Md., and one is ministering to cowboys in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Next year, Powdersville First Baptist plans to plant a church in Chesnee, S.C., an hour away.

In addition to its home state of South Carolina, the church has taken mission trips to Florida, New Mexico, Utah and Virginia, and has ministered abroad in Haiti, Israel and Romania.

A mission trip to Anchorage, Alaska, is planned for 2016, as well as a “mystery mission trip” with a destination unknown to those who sign up.

“If the Lord is calling, it doesn’t matter where it is,” Atkins said. “We wanted to show our members that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the calling.”

Each October, church members complete a spiritual gifts survey in advance of the church’s annual missions fair in November. Members select ministries that interest them and turn in the assessment known as “My Personal Ministry Booklet for ACTS.”

It’s part of the church’s new ACTS — Amazing Church That Serves — structural model that resulted last year in about 70 percent of the congregation becoming involved in one or more ministries. ACTS utilizes the church’s five deacons to facilitate the ministries and update the pastor on ministry progress at monthly deacon meetings.

“It’s one of my favorite times of the month,” Atkins said of the deacon meetings. “It allows me to know the pulse of the church. This way our members can keep their focus. They can say, ‘I am promoting the Kingdom. I’m a part of this, from faithful giving to faithful service.'”

By taking the onus off a nominating committee that might not know the new members, ACTS gets new members involved right away, even between ministry fairs.

“Unless everyone in the church is using all the gifts, talents and abilities God has given them, the church will not be what God intended it to be,” Atkins said.

Powdersville First Baptist has more than 40 ministries, including Awana, Good News Club, and special community events such as the First Fest annual homecoming which drew more 600 people. There’s a free community supper once a month, a van ministry that includes Sunday morning breakfast, and other outreaches.

The first ministry fair in 2014 more than doubled the number of people involved in ministry at the church. Evangelism is at the core of each outreach.

“I remind our people regularly that the same Gospel that changed their life has the power to change lives all around the world,” Atkins said. “God is blessing the church and we are seeing God give the increase.

“I believe that greater things are ahead of us, as long as we’re preaching the Word and loving the people,” he said. “There’s no limit to what God can do if we don’t limit what He will do.”