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Rural church doubles in size; Baptizes more than 50 converts

CLAYTON, Okla. (BP)–The First Baptist Church of Clayton, Okla. isn’t the first congregation to baptize more than 50 converts in half a year.

But they likely are among the few which have seen it happen amidst a rural, 175-member congregation.

Clayton, population 550, is located in the Kiamichi Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma.

The livelihoods of folks there depend on farming, logging or perhaps a job at the Talihina Indian hospital, 25 miles to the northeast.

Within 15 minutes of town reside 3,500 people; 2,800 of them are unchurched, said Roy Rochell, the church’s pastor.

“We’re right in the middle of a mission field, even though we’re right in the middle of the Bible belt,” he said.

The church, organized in 1917, was averaging about 60 people in Sunday School when Rochell came 3 1/2 years ago.

In 1995, a long-term planning committee began praying for a greater outreach to their community.

They were specific, asking God for 140 people in Sunday School within five years, Rochell said.

In 1998, they averaged “80-something.” In 1999, they averaged more than 100.

This year, God has far exceeded expectations.

Last winter the congregation began the FAITH evangelism program, produced by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Rochell prayed for 10 church members to commit to the 16-week training.

The Lord gave him 27.

Every Sunday afternoon, they met, prayed and prepared. And when evening services came, they began sharing their hopes for outreach with the entire congregation.

“There’s when the church became involved in praying and it got them excited, even those who were not even doing it,” Rochell said. “The church really got excited when they saw what God was doing.”

The culmination of the outreach was a crusade last April. Again, they set a goal: 250 in Sunday School the first day of the crusade, and 50 salvation decisions.

Two-hundred fifty-four people came to Sunday School that day, and around 300 crammed into a 186-seat auditorium for Sunday morning services.

During the weeklong crusade, 59 people prayed to receive Christ, followed by five more the next Sunday.

Rochell has baptized 52 of those converts, he said.

“We were expecting God to do something . . . and the people saw that God is able to do immeasurably above all that we can ask or even think.”

Since the crusade, the church is averaging around 160 in Sunday School — twice what it was two years ago.

Perhaps more impressive is that Wednesday evenings are drawing 160-180 people, partly due to a mid-week bus ministry which transports dozens of youngsters for children’s and youth programs.

“I’ve never been in a church where we’ve run more on Wednesday than we do on Sunday morning,” Rochell marveled, adding that Wednesday evenings have become a time of concentrated corporate prayer.

“And it’s not just a praying-for-the-sick list. We are asking God for direction, to show us how to actively build up the kingdom,” he said. “A lot of prayer has gone into this. Our church has really changed its focus to more prayer.”

Rochell said he and other church members were “stirred” to greater prayer by the preaching of Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, at last winter’s evangelism conference sponsored by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

“God has just blessed the efforts of his people,” he said. The church plans to build a new family life center, in which it will meet for worship until a larger facility can be built. This fall, First Baptist will hold two worship services to utilize limited space, Rochell said.

    About the Author

  • Jerry Pierce