Today’s From the States features items from:
The Alabama Baptist
Florida Baptist Witness
Southern Baptist TEXAN
Ala. church feeds students
physically and spiritually
By Carrie Brown McWhorter
ANNISTON, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) — Shortly before the Wednesday evening service began April 6, a line formed in the hall outside the sanctuary of First Baptist Church, Eulaton, in Anniston. A diverse group of 21 candidates waited for their turn to join interim youth pastor Jim Usher in the baptistery. In the sanctuary, nearly 300 people crowded in to witness the decisions.
“What a day,” Usher proclaimed as he stepped into the baptistery water. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Ten years ago, attendance was low at First, Eulaton. The Calhoun Baptist Association church had only a handful of children who came regularly. One Wednesday night an adult caught one of the children snooping in the refrigerator. When she asked the boy what he was doing, he admitted he had not had supper and was looking for something to eat. Church workers found the boy something to eat and made a decision that night to start feeding whoever came on Wednesday night.
Longtime member Frances Vinson remembered that in the early days of the food ministry, church members prepared food at home.
“We had better desserts back then,” she said with a laugh, prompting Usher to ask if there were brownies left over from that night’s meal. Turning serious, Vinson said the boy’s need had opened the church’s eyes to both the spiritual and physical needs in the community.
“We are so blessed to be able to see that these children and youth are fed at least one hot meal a week besides their meal at school and then learn of Jesus’ love for them,” she said. “The time spent here at church, they are in a safe environment where they have their stomachs filled as well as their souls filled with the love of Jesus.”
And the way First, Eulaton, was able to provide meals to children in the area was through the annual Alabama Baptist Hunger Offering. One-hundred percent of every hunger offering dollar goes to relieve hunger, according to Jim Swedenburg, state missionary for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM), who is responsible for promoting, soliciting for and securing the annual offering.
The ministry at First, Eulaton, shows how meeting physical needs is connected to meeting spiritual ones, said Kristy Kennedy, associate in the office of associational missions and church planting at SBOM.
Every time a church or association requests hunger funds, Kennedy is in charge of reviewing and granting appropriate requests.
“It is very exciting to see the impact that hunger funds can make on a church and a community,” Kennedy said. “What began with feeding a few hungry children has grown into physically and spiritually feeding whole families. Lives are being changed.”
The church’s most recent report to SBOM tells part of the story. The church served 673 meals between Oct. 1, 2015, and Feb. 29, 2016. Each Wednesday night, 40 volunteers work in the kitchen, teach or assist in classes, drive the buses to pick up and drop off children or help with the ministry in some way. And an average of 200 students attend consistently.
The other part of the story is that the attendance remains steady even in the summer, said Gary “Butch” Hathorne, who heads the midweek ministry. The students themselves are the biggest recruiters. “They talk it up to each other in school, and we go to the school to pick kids up after their practices and activities,” Hathorne said, who estimates that the church’s van ministry picks up 50 or more students every Wednesday.
The impact of Wednesday nights is felt on Sundays too. More and more students are bringing their parents and the church is growing.
“The kids are reaching their own moms and dads,” Hathorne said. Many of those parents, grandparents and friends were at the baptism service, and Usher did not miss the opportunity to share the Gospel with them.
As he called those gathered to make a decision to follow Christ, dozens came to the altar to pray. By the end of the night, 20 more had accepted Christ and indicated a desire to be baptized. Like those who were baptized earlier, those at the altar included teens and adults, parents and children, brown faces and white faces — all committing their lives to Jesus.
Pastor Randy Huddleston excitedly said, “That’s what I’m talking about,” as people came forward. “We think too small, but we have an amazing God with a mighty plan. We’re going to do this every Wednesday night.”
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Carrie Brown McWhorter is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.
Fla. churches breathe
life into struggling congregations
BY Nicole Kalil
JACKSOVILLE, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness) — Stories of rescue can be found throughout Scripture. Indeed, the constant thread that is woven throughout the Bible speaks of our ultimate rescue from death and sin through Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary.
Yet, many churches today are finding themselves at a crossroads and coming to terms with their need for a different kind of rescue.
During a panel discussion at the SBC annual meeting last year, NAMB National Legacy Strategy Leader John Mark Clifton put it this way: “Approximately 10-15 percent of Southern Baptist churches are at risk of dying. Every year, about 900 churches close and lock their doors for the last time, with as many as 70 percent of them situated in growing neighborhoods.”
And while that may be the overall state of Southern Baptist churches across the nation, several Jacksonville-area churches have decided to step in and rescue struggling sister congregations in an effort to turn the tide of decline.
After its senior pastor passed away, Terry Road Baptist Church began to flounder, and its numbers began to drop. Rick Wheeler, lead missional strategist for the Jacksonville Baptist Association, had been working with the church for years, cultivating the international congregations that meet there, so he was in prime position to help the church figure out its next step.
Meanwhile, in another part of town, Epoch Church, a seven-year-old plant meeting in a storefront, was about to find itself at the end of its lease without a suitable location to move in to.
All of our folks were pretty nervous about what came next,” said Scott Swanstrom, who planted the church with 18 people but had seen it grow to approximately 175.
Wheeler said the timing has to be right to bring two churches together. Once he deemed Terry Road ready to consider a partnership, he made the introductions.
Swanstrom said that when Wheeler told him that he knew of a church in decline that was open to “a new Gospel presence to be brought in,” Epoch Church and Terry Road Baptist began what he termed a “dating relationship.”
With each congregation free to walk away from the partnership if it felt uneasy, the two churches had a joint preview service in June 2015. In August, Terry Road voted for the Epoch leadership to be officially installed.
Swanstrom called the immediate response from the community a “huge win,” with more than 370 in attendance on Easter Sunday in a service that took place in five different languages.
But that’s just one recent example.
Tim Maynard, lead pastor of Fruit Cove Baptist Church in northern St. Johns County, felt led to bring his church into partnership with a church in decline in an effort to revitalize the congregation and bring it back to health. He asked Wheeler to be on the lookout for a “good fit” for Fruit Cove.
Nine months later, Wheeler told him about Macedonia Baptist, a congregation in decline on the west side of Jacksonville. A large mortgage and a dwindling congregation that had been unsuccessful in reaching the transitioning community around them had put Macedonia in an unsustainable situation.
Maynard and Fruit Cove’s leadership willingly jumped in to see how they could “stand alongside” Macedonia as the church tried to find its footing.
“We didn’t want it to be about how much money we put in, and we didn’t want to take it over as a campus,” he explained. “We wanted it to be a paradigm for churches that don’t have a lot of money to follow.”
During the last year, Fruit Cove has provided leaders and members who have gone to serve and tithe at Macedonia. The churches have partnered together in joint mission projects that directly benefited elementary school students in the community around Macedonia.
Now, the leadership of Macedonia is moving toward a more long-term solution through a merger with nearby plant Rise Church. Rise will benefit from the stability of a permanent facility, and the Macedonia congregation will have an influx of new life as Rise brings its congregation of young families from the surrounding area.
Like Fruit Cove, the leadership at Hibernia Baptist Church in Clay County let Wheeler know they were ready to help revitalize a struggling church.
To their north, Wheeler was in the midst of counseling a dying congregation at Hyde Park Baptist. He advised that they had three options: turn the church over to a plant, an option Wheeler had seen work before; become a campus of another, healthier church; or close the doors for good. While the congregation prayerfully considered its options, JBA provided a transitional pastor to serve the congregation and help it decide which direction to take.
Upon deciding to become a campus of another church, Wheeler introduced Hyde Park to Hibernia. Together, the churches decided to call a pastor to specifically shepherd the Hyde Park congregation as it came under the leadership of Hibernia. As God’s divine providence would have it, JimBo Stewart had felt the call to do just that.
Stewart got the call to come to the new Hyde Park campus of Hibernia Baptist in January 2014, and the church launched on Easter Sunday of that year. Stewart said that when they started there were about 40 people in attendance, 15 of them sent from Hibernia. Stewart began an intentional effort to invest in the community around the Hyde Park campus by getting involved with a nearby apartment complex and elementary school, and the numbers grew.
“God started to send us some people, and we’ve seen many redeeming stories of God,” Stewart said. “He’s redeeming a dying church and a broken people in this community.”
Now with attendance trending around 180, Hibernia has decided that Hyde Park is healthy enough to stand on its own. Hyde Park will launch as an autonomous work on Easter Sunday 2017.
Whether it’s called a replant, a transplant, a revitalization or a rescue, Wheeler hopes to see the process repeated across the state and the nation.
“I’m praying for God to raise up an army of church replanters and praying for our denomination to wake up to the critical need for direct involvement in replanting churches across our country,” he said. “It’s hard work and it’s not fun, but if we don’t help these churches, we will be a smaller SBC network with much less Gospel influence in 10 years.”
This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com). Nicole Kalil is a reporter for the Florida Baptist Witness.
Texas Hispanic ministry leaders discuss
strategies for reaching changing demographic
By Sharayah Colter
GRAPEVINE, Texas (Southern Baptist TEXAN) — The only country population comprised of more Hispanics than the United States is Mexico, Mike Alameda said during a leadership summit April 5. And, according to U.S. Census projections, the number of Hispanic American citizens will continue to climb over the coming years, Alameda explained during the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s second annual Hispanic Leadership Summit, April 5.
Alameda, who serves as founder and director of Corazon Ministries in Tucson, Ariz., spent the day speaking about Hispanic culture, changes Hispanics are experiencing and ways in which they can be reached for Christ.
Alameda said he learned early on as a missionary to his own people 24 years ago that they are relational at the core.
“I was the first Christian in my Hispanic family,” Alameda said. “Like many of you, I wanted them to know Jesus Christ as their savior.”
Initially, family members were put off by his evangelistic methods, but Alameda says he learned that merely telling them they were going to hell would not work. When he began to invest in family members as individuals, taking interest in them and being aware of their need for love and purpose in life, they became more receptive to the Gospel.
“All 76 of my family members are born-again Christians,” Alameda said.
Alameda also told summit attendees to observe and account for changes in the culture from generation to generation. “Every three generations, I have to change my approach to ministry,” he said.
Whereas grandmothers were formerly strict disciplinarians, he said, today many of them instead opt for becoming the friends of their children and grandchildren. Even so, he said, Catholicism is still a large influence in the Hispanic culture, leading families to regard issues such as the sanctity of human life as deeply important. Alameda said where churches were formerly monolingual, they now need to incorporate Spanish and English.
Alameda also addressed younger generations, mostly millennials, and their desire for authenticity.
“Everything looks good at church, but as soon as they walk out of church, everything looks terrible,” Alameda said.
Millennials need to hear testimonies in church and at home of how God has been good and faithful even in difficult times and trials, he said. They need to know that God will never leave them or forsake them, even amid grim news reports and current events.
“Discipleship is being honest and telling the truth,” Alameda said. “That is what they’re looking for.”
For more information about SBTC Hispanic Ministries and events like the Hispanic Leadership Summit, visit sbtexas.com/hispanic-ministries.
This article appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.Sharayah Colter is a staff writer for the Southern Baptist TEXAN.
EDITOR’S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board’s call to embrace the world’s unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board’s call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.