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Southeastern church planters find responsiveness in New Hampshire

RAYMOND, N.H. (BP)–Less than two years into its church-planting mission in New Hampshire, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has graduates serving as pastors of churches across the state.
From the town of Berlin in the state’s northernmost county to Londonderry in the south, Southeastern graduates are preaching the gospel in five newly established Southern Baptist churches. And one church that was on the verge of closing its doors is now showing signs of revival as attendance has quadrupled since a Southeastern alumnus became its pastor.
Southeastern forged a partnership with the New Hampshire Baptist Association in January 1997 aimed at establishing 50 Southern Baptist churches in the state over the next decade. During the past two summers, nearly 100 Southeastern students and faculty have taken the gospel to New Hampshire, a state of more than 1.1 million people, most of whom are lost without Christ.
“We had four starts this year, and we’re looking at starting at least six next year,” said Rick Pressley, church-planting strategy coordinator with the New Hampshire Baptist Association and 1995 Southeastern alumnus.
This fall, Buck Booker, a spring 1994 master of divinity graduate from Southeastern, became pastor of the newly re-established North Country Baptist Church in the Coos County town of Berlin. Located in northeastern New Hampshire, the church has grown from an attendance of about 10 to nearly 40 people since October, Pressley said. Booker baptized two new Christians on Sunday, Nov. 29.
Meanwhile, across state, Mark Ballard, a 1995 master of divinity graduate, is serving as pastor of the newly founded Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in Londonderry. The church is located in Rockingham County in southeastern New Hampshire where it is currently holding services in a town meeting hall. In November, the church averaged 21 people in attendance and on Sunday, Dec.6, four people were baptized.
In the southwestern part of the state, Connecticut River Baptist Church in the Sullivan County town of Claremont is seeing rapid growth in its relatively short life. Bill Hedgpeth, a May 1997 master of divinity graduate, pioneered the New Hampshire church-planting partnership as the first alumnus to start a church.
Hedgpeth, who preached in Southeastern’s Binkley Chapel Nov. 17, said the Christian school building the church has been meeting in is already too small. “We’re a year and a half old, and we grew pretty quickly,” he said. “We’re at a point where our little meeting place will only hold 105 or 110 chairs, and there’s no more space.”
Hedgpeth said the church has seen several people come to the Lord this year and several rededications in the last few months, following revival meetings led by Hedgpeth’s father, Cary Hedgpeth, who started a new church in Greenville, S.C., several years ago.
“Our prayer meetings — and this has come about since revival — are two hours,” Hedgpeth said. “Everybody prays [aloud]. I think we’ve had just one night when a person just did not pray. It blew me away that everybody wanted to pray.”
In the southeastern part of the state, Pressley is seeing similar results in the Rockingham County town of Raymond where he serves as pastor of Providence Baptist Church. The church baptized seven people on Dec. 20.
Since this summer, the church, which averaged 28 in attendance in November, has moved from meeting at one of the member’s homes to a church building.
“There are more visitors every Sunday and people are joining,” Pressley said. “We met in a school for a while, and now God has provided a great building in a good spot.”
Pressley said the new church start has benefited greatly by the work 15 Southeastern students did June 14-20 when they knocked on 2,600 doors in Raymond mostly while standing in the rain. Twenty-nine people made professions of faith and the gospel was presented to nearly 400 people.
Lee Cordell, a May 1997 graduate, has taken on the challenge of restarting a church in the Hillsborough County town of Bedford. The former Bedford Baptist Church has been revitalized into the new Cornerstone Baptist Church.
Cordell said the church was renamed to provide “a fresh start with the community.”
“It showed that something new was occurring,” he said. “It also forced members to come out of their mind-set of survival and look outward toward growth.”
The new name, Cordell said, represents the church’s purpose. “We want Christ to take his ordained position as the foundation and basis for all of our work and ministry.”
Cordell has been busy this fall following up on several dozen contacts made this summer by Southeastern students who went door-to-door in Bedford sharing the gospel. Four people accepted Christ as their Savior as a result of the contacts the students made the week of June 22-25.
One of the challenges, Cordell said, is the church’s location. The church leases a building located in one of the “rougher” areas of the city. Currently about a dozen people attend services regularly.
Cordell said he has been encouraged by the support he receives from his fellow pastors in the New Hampshire Baptist Association.
“We have a pastors’ meeting where the pastors get together once a month, and the first one was here in Bedford,” Cordell said. “After the meeting, we went out for an hour knocking on doors.”
In Carrol County, Southeastern alumnus Brian Hart has baptized nearly 10 people this fall at The Valley Christian Church in Conway. The church, located in the eastern part of the state, began holding services last winter and averaged 55 in attendance in November.
Pressley said along with working to grow existing churches, plans for future church starts are under way. “We’ve already started the initial probe into Salem, and that will be our next big start. We’re getting ready to start Bible studies in Exeter, and we already have people committed to a Bible study there.”
Three Southeastern couples already have committed to go to New Hampshire following graduation in May, Pressley said. Next year, church planters will be targeting the towns of Hudson and Keene, along with Exeter, in the southern part of the state and Lebanon and Goffstown in the middle of the state, Pressley said.
“It’s really coming together now,” Pressley said. “God is blessing it.”
Greg Carpenter contributed to this article.

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  • Lee Weeks