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Energetic pastor rustles church, tripling membership in 3 years

FINCASTLE, Va. (BP)–Tucked near the shadows of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway rests the sleepy burg of Fincastle. Narrow streets. Quaint storefronts. Rich history.

Three years ago God began rousing the folks at Fincastle Baptist Church when Kevin Cummings arrived as pastor. That sometimes happens when a Louisiana Cajun meets the Virginia gentry.

After 166 years, the historic church awoke to its greatest growth spurt ever. Cummings arrived in 1997 to about 70 active members, most of whom were more than 55 years old. No youth program, no nursery, and a petition to force the pastor out a year later over the issue of women deacons despite the church’s majority to the contrary.

Selective pruning leads to healthy growth, and after the departure of about 20 active members, the church was stretching its muscles, arising to a new day. Average attendance the first year was 120. In 1998 the church hired a youth minister, who started intensive children’s and youth ministries. Things were looking up; attendance was averaging 180.

The summer of 1999 rolled around, and Cummings partnered with three other pastors to hold an old-fashioned tent revival on a vacant lot next to the church. About 30 people joined Fincastle Baptist as a result. That pushed the church’s numbers to more than 200. Since 1997, about 50 have been baptized, and more than 80 others have joined by statement or letter.

So what happened?

“We’ve adopted a motto around here: ‘Whatever it takes to reach people with the gospel, even if it means the unusual,'” said Cummings, noting that for a church to be continually successful it must change its methods, but not the “age-old message.”

He admits “the unusual” is what may draw some people. Cummings once preached about the Lord’s return, and at the appropriate prearranged moment in the sermon a trumpet player hiding in the baptistery bleated out notes that had a few folks doubting their salvation since they weren’t instantly “translated” into the next world.

Cummings also employs any advice or program designed to bring people into the church. This includes “Bring a Friend Day,” which he says more aptly describes the church’s atmosphere. “We have visitors every Sunday,” he said. “It seems about all I do is visit visitors.”

Since 1998, the church has joined in the annual Fincastle (arts and crafts) Festival. Church members offer face painting for children, hand out refreshments, give tours of the architecturally interesting church building and distribute literature about the church.

And during the town’s annual Halloween parade, the church youth group — which now numbers near 40 — distributes candy, gospel tracts and informational literature about the church’s own discipleship program for children called “Kid’s Klub.”

“Hey, if you’re critical of what the world has to offer,” Cummings advises, “then capitalize on it and offer something better.”

As an avowed sports nut, Cummings practices what he preaches. Judging from the number of trophies in his office, he’s a pretty decent coach. He’s parlayed those skills into an outreach tool as he coaches a variety of kids’ sports teams in Fincastle. “Some parents who knew me as ‘Coach Kevin’ now call me ‘Pastor Kevin,'” he said.

Other outreach methods were, in reality, church marketing campaigns. Every new resident of the community is mailed a hand-addressed welcome letter from the church. Every resident within the three zip codes surrounding the church has also received introductory mail from the church.

Just as the church has plowed new ground evangelistically, it has done the same denominationally in terms of its state convention association. Fincastle members formed a study committee, met with officials of the Baptist General Association of Virginia and the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, and then in a July 2000 business meeting recommended to church members a dual alignment that would split Cooperative Program gifts on a 90-to-10 percent ratio, designating the larger portion through the SBC of Virginia. A member moved that the new alignment not be dual, but unique. The motion passed overwhelmingly.

“I think God is looking for a church that will be faithful to the Bible and basic Baptist doctrine,” he said. “Gone are the days when people drive past us to find conservative preaching in Roanoke.” Fincastle Baptist is so popular that its two morning services can’t handle the crowds. That’s why in early 2001 the church plans to buy 20 acres on a main highway that skirts Fincastle’s city limits.

“Not long after I arrived here, a member told me, ‘I’ve prayed for 25 years that God would raise up a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church in Fincastle,'” Cummings recalled. But his voice cracks a little and his usual upbeat tone subsides when he says, “It’s humbling that God would use me to do that.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: TENT REVIVAL and STREET CARNIVAL.

    About the Author

  • Norm Miller