News Articles

FROM THE STATES: Ga., Fla., Texas evangelism/missions news; Pastor meeting needs ‘a mile from my steeple’

Today’s From the States features items from:
The Christian Index
Florida Baptist Witness
Southern Baptist TEXAN

Ga. church strengthened
through men’s ministry
By Jim Burton

WRENS, Ga. (The Christian Index) — When travelers on US Route 1 breeze through this small southeast Georgia town, they will likely notice Wrens Baptist Church, the largest building in a town of about 2,100 people.

What may not be so obvious is that the New York Times once ranked Jefferson County among the ten hardest American counties to live in, along with a host of counties from eastern Kentucky.

“I can go a mile from my steeple and find people living with no electricity or water, not sure where they’re going to get their next meal from,” said Scot McKinney, Wrens Baptist Church’s former pastor earlier this year.

What is also not immediately obvious to passersby is what God is doing within the church, particularly its Baptist Men. In recent years, McKinney saw a turnaround of participation and commitment from his men.

“If we can get the men assimilated into church and to feel there is an importance to being here, we can move the church forward,” McKinney said. “We need the men to show up and understand the value of a relationship with God on a daily basis. So we go after the men.”

Going after the men meant there had to be a few changes at Wrens Baptist. Their former Brotherhood group averaged about 10 men in a monthly meeting. McKinney recognized that the church men’s group was in a rut, so he led them to stop meeting for a while. He wanted to see if there was a “hunger and desire” among the men to grow.

After about six months, McKinney said there was a rumble in the church to form again. A layman, Jim Gay, hosted a cookout at his home, and about 50 men attended. After hearing Gay’s testimony, McKinney spoke and “re-energized” the former Brotherhood, according to church member Randy Smith.

Leadership emerged

After the cookout, Smith told his pastor that he felt God calling him to get involved in men’s ministry. He had served in other church leadership positions, including chairman of deacons.

The church changed the name to Baptist Men and saw its monthly attendance grow to 40-plus men, sometimes reaching as high as 70. Younger men got involved and are now leading Baptist Men.

“We feel like God’s hand is in it and we are following His direction,” Smith said.

Some attractional events resulted in synergy and evangelism. Five years ago they started a January Men’s Conference to speak directly to men’s issues. After a daylong Saturday meeting, they follow it with a Baptist Men’s Day emphasis on Sunday, which McKinney says is one of the biggest days in the church.

About a month later, Wrens’ Baptist Men hosted a wild game supper. When it started a few years ago, they expected about 100 attendees, but 330 showed up. Now, they require reservations to manage the crowd in their facilities.

Before school starts each year, Wrens Baptist has a backpack ministry to serve underprivileged families. The men provide much of the labor to assemble backpacks for their community’s students, and they host a block party to distribute the backpacks.

They gear the men’s conference, wild game supper, and backpack ministry to present the Gospel. The 2014 backpack block party alone resulted in 34 professions of faith, while the 2014 wild game supper resulted in more than 50.


McKinney has a history of initiating and growing men’s work through one-on-one discipleship. He started with three men at Wrens, and discipled them for about a year. In turn, they began discipling other men.

“When men were brought into a discipleship group, they attended more often,” McKinney said.

In 2009 when McKinney arrived, he counted 130 people who were truly involved in the church. As pastor he estimated that number to be 225.

“We’ve got more men involved,” McKinney said.

Beyond the attractional events, discipleship, and monthly meetings, Wrens Baptist Men have adopted a cottage at the Baxley Children’s Home where they try to interact and mentor the boys. And many men have traveled to Panama to support the church’s partnership there to plant churches.

Wrens Baptists’ Royal Ambassador ministry has also benefited from the growth in Baptist Men, as has the church’s missions giving. Wrens Baptist gives 10% of its undesignated gifts through the Cooperative Program. The church exceeded its 2014 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering Goal by $3,000, giving a total of $11,649.

“The men of our households are leading that,” McKinney said.
This article appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming, Ga.


Fla. pastor: ‘You
can’t out-give God’
By Margaret Colson/Florida Baptist Convention

PLANT CITY, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness) — She was an elementary school teacher for more than two decades — until a disability forced her into early retirement and a reduced pension. She soon discovered that she couldn’t stretch her income enough to meet her monthly financial obligations. She was in need for the first time in her life.

He’s a legal immigrant, daily working the fields of crops across the Sunshine State from sunup to sundown. Although surrounded by the bounty of the land, he has barely enough to feed his family of four children. He and his wife often go to bed hungry so that their children don’t have to feel the pangs of hunger as they try to sleep.

He is on the go constantly as a carnival worker. Week-in and week-out, he is in a different city doing his job setting up and tearing down rides and displays so that others can enjoy a few hours of fun. While fairgoers love the funnel cakes and cotton candy, sometimes all he wants is a hot meat-and-vegetable meal.

Throughout Florida, the faces of hunger may be as close as the senior adult who lives down the street. Or the child who can’t focus on schoolwork because of gnawing hunger; or even the person who has been out of a job longer than he cares to admit.

Pastor Michael Fredette, from Liberty Southern Baptist Church in Plant City, didn’t clearly see these faces of hunger until one Wednesday evening about six years ago at his church.

That evening, a teenager approached Fredette, who was then serving as youth minister, and asked if he had a snack. Standing in the church’s kitchen, he turned and opened the cabinets behind him. All he saw was a box of graham crackers, stale from having been opened for far too long. He took the box down and gave the young man a couple of crackers. Before he could even put the box back in the cabinet, a line had formed.

That evening, Fredette realized, for the first time, that he was looking at the faces of hunger.

“Hunger is our enemy,” he said. He decided that evening to lead his church to fight the enemy of hunger aggressively and, in so doing, share God’s message of redemption.

The church’s approach to combat hunger in the community is multifaceted, including hot meals on Sundays and Wednesdays, weekly food distribution, an emergency grocery box program, a backpack ministry for school children, ministry during the state’s annual Strawberry Festival and more.

This comprehensive approach to the enemy of hunger is underwritten in part by Florida Baptist hunger funds.

The church’s hunger ministry has grown through the years.

“It’s remarkable what God has done,” said Pastor Fredette.

Once Fredette became involved in the hunger ministry, it didn’t take long for him to make a commitment to God: Whatever hunger ministry resources God provided to him or the church through the generosity of others, he would make sure those resources were given out to those in need.

He’s learned one important lesson: “You can’t out-give God.”

The giving is in full swing when church members gather on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings, and the church provides hot meals for those attending services. For many, these may be the only hot meals they will have all week.

Associate Pastor Chris Ross serves as church chef for the Sunday and Wednesday meals.

“It’s an amazing experience. It doesn’t get any better than this,” he said. “We’re able to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.”

On Wednesday mornings, even as Ross is cooking the evening meal, a line of community residents starts forming outside the church at about 11:30. Inside the church, a beehive of activity has been going on since much earlier.

Church volunteers are sorting food, setting it out on tables, preparing for the needy to come in and gather the food needed for their families.

As afternoon approaches, Pastor Fredette invites everyone in line to come into the church sanctuary. There, they meet church members who give them numbers, marking their places in line.

For the next couple of hours, those who have gathered seem to relax. The weariness and worry etched on their faces give way to a seeming calm; some even doze momentarily on the church pews. Children wiggle from their mother’s arms. Others step outside for fresh air.

The pastor makes his way through the crowds, greeting people by name, playfully teasing children, praying with people. He steps to the podium and shares the Gospel message.

In 2014, approximately 100 people, who had lined up for food distribution, made professions of faith.

As the clock moves toward 4 p.m., the needy are directed into small groups into the church fellowship hall, where canned goods, fresh fruit and vegetables, breads, beverages and boxed foods are piled to overflowing on the tables. Each small group has 10 minutes to load boxes with food, and then the next group comes in.

By day’s end, about 200 families walk out the door with boxes brimming with food. Smiles of relief fill their faces.

“We’re not going to let anybody go hungry,” said Ross.
This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Margaret Colson is a writer for the Florida Baptist Convention.


Texas church rebounds
through culture of prayer
By Jane Rodgers

VAN ALSTYNE, Texas (Southern Baptist TEXAN) — The Crossroads Community Church, located on the dividing line between the towns of Anna and Van Alstyne, reached a crossroads of its own in 2014 when the congregation’s growth prompted a property search. Just as the church began negotiations for the purchase of 10 acres, another local congregation made them an offer they couldn’t refuse: the gift of a church facility situated on four acres and less than 15 years old.

“In June 2014 we found land to purchase. We knew paying for it would stretch us, but we felt it was time to step out in faith,” The Crossroads pastor and Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) field ministry strategist Shawn Kemp said. “We committed as a church to pray about the decision for two weeks.”

During that period of prayer, Kemp received an unexpected phone call from an elder of Van Alstyne’s Community Bible Church (CBC) to ask if The Crossroads might be interested in his church’s building and property. A group from The Crossroads visited the location and liked what they saw.

“What exactly are you looking to do with the property?” Kemp had inquired.

“We want to give it to you,” the CBC elder replied, explaining that church membership had declined and leadership felt led to search for a worthy recipient.

“He told us they were looking for a church that was reaching the community,” Kemp said.

In August, The Crossroads began holding services in the CBC facilities, which featured a 150-seat auditorium, an education wing, an atrium and a playground. In December 2014, the property was officially deeded to The Crossroads.

“It was a joyous time for us — a blessing — and we give God the glory,” Kemp said. “But we also recognized that it was painful for another congregation.”

Several former CBC families now worship at The Crossroads.

Kemp and his congregation understand painful times. The Crossroads was founded nearly seven years ago when Kemp, a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and his wife, LaRissa, felt called to plant a church in the Anna/Van Alstyne area. The couple lived in Sherman where Kemp was a pastor.

The largely unchurched community of Anna had experienced explosive suburban growth—its population rising from 900 in 1999 to 6,500 in 2008 to nearly 15,000 in 2015, Kemp said.

Commuting to and from Sherman for three years while awaiting the sale of their home helped the family identify with the residents of their new community as LaRissa began teaching in an Anna ISD elementary school. Most Anna/Van Alstyne residents commute to jobs in the metroplex.

“Our home in Sherman was like a hotel. We spent our nights there but we spent our days and lives in Anna,” Kemp recalled. The Kemp family permanently relocated to Anna in 2011.

The Crossroads experienced steady growth after its founding in 2008, meeting for just over a year in a tumble and cheer facility before moving to Joe K. Bryant Elementary School. The congregation numbered 140 by 2009 until conflict among several families caused an exodus.

“We dropped from 130-140 to 35 in church over the next two years,” Kemp said. “It was an incredibly disappointing and discouraging time. In 2011, we had money for only two months, and we faced the possibility of closing the doors.”

Kemp recalled attending a conference where pastors reported stories of great success in church growth while his own church was laden with crisis. He hoped to hear one of the speakers emphasize that God had moved and done something amazing.

“At that moment,” Kemp said, “I very clearly felt God saying, ‘What are you doing right now at The Crossroads so that this will be what you could say?'”

God was about to do something amazing with The Crossroads, and it would involve prayer.

Convinced God was calling the church to pray and seek after him, Kemp met with elders to discuss changes in the worship service. He wanted services to start with extended congregational prayer—a practice the church has maintained since then.

“We have an opening song; then we pray,” Kemp said. “It’s not just the pastor standing at the front saying a pretty prayer. We break up into small groups and pray for God to be at work in our church. We don’t just pray for sick people; we pray for God to move and work and to do something only he can do.”

Visitors are encouraged to stay seated and allow The Crossroads members to seek them out. Those who do not feel comfortable praying aloud are invited to pray silently.

Weekly congregational prayer is the “most important thing we do each Sunday,” Kemp said. “If we as a people aren’t praying, if we as a people aren’t seeking him, what are we doing?”

The Crossroads also changed outreach methods.

“We stopped talking about what our church has to offer in activities and programs. We started telling people that our church will connect them to the mission of God in following Jesus,” Kemp explained.

“We began telling people, ‘We want to help you give your life away,'” Kemp said. “In about a year’s time, God doubled us from 35 to 70. In another year’s time, we were pushing 100.”

In its new facilities, The Crossroads offers two services on Sundays, with more than 230 attending Easter services. Five baptisms have occurred in 2015, with five or six slated to happen soon.

“Our story is that God did this. God moved,” Kemp said. “He gets all the glory.”
This article appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Jane Rodgers is a correspondent 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 3,800 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.

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