North Carolina church puts passion into creativity, kids

EDITORS' NOTE: The following two stories are part of a monthly Baptist Press series to explore and describe how individuals, churches, associations and conventions exhibit a passion for Christ and His Kingdom.

EDEN, N.C. (BP)--Pastor Steve Griffith of Osborne Baptist Church vividly remembers prayerwalking around the corporate headquarters of a major textile plant one day in February 1998 when he sensed God telling him, "I'm going to give you this building."

"I could take you to the spot," said Griffith, adding that God impressed on him that it wasn't a matter of bricks and mortar but of His passion for people.

Nearing the time of his graduation from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1993, Griffith preached in view of a call at the Eden, N.C., church, which was at a crisis point. He was perplexed when the church voted against calling him as pastor.

"About three weeks later they called me back saying the church had split and the people who wanted me to come were the ones who stayed," Griffith recounted. He sought counsel from his mentor, the late Mark Corts, then-pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, who frankly warned him to "Run!"

But God did not let Griffith and his wife Jenny off the hook so easily. He returned a second time to preach and was called as Osborne's pastor.

"When churches go through a split, nobody wins. The first two years were really weird," Griffith said. "I went to the Lord and asked Him, 'What are You doing? Where do You want us to go?'"

Griffith quickly recognized a need to update the building. But the day a plan to spruce up the 120-seat worship facility was presented, God radically changed Osborne's course. Griffith said he told the committee to go ahead with presenting the plan, but he himself would not be able to recommend it. "The pastor's lost his mind," they thought. But before the meeting was over, church members voted to launch a building program with worship seating capacity for 500.

Osborne at the time was a typical "three hymns, a sermon and a slap on the back, then you go home" type of church, Griffith said. He sensed a need to "shake things up a bit." They began by attempting a full-blown Easter passion play, which successfully drew audiences for several years and was a turning point in revitalizing the church. "We tried to love the people and not cram the message down their throats," Griffith said. "We started seeing people change, get saved, and marriages were being restored."

He added, "Fortunately, when we started changing things, people saw that God was working. And they say, 'If God is working, that's what matters the most.'"

Around 1997, Eden's main industry -- textiles -- started declining. "EVERYBODY worked in textiles," Griffith said. "People were losing their jobs -- the town was becoming depressed." Eden's population decreased from 16,000 then to about 12,500 now.

In spite of the textile industry's decline, "God was still moving in the church," Griffith said. Osborne had gone to multiple services and had outgrown their space while still paying on the debt from their building program.

And God was about to move on their behalf. In the middle of the night, Griffith's wife made a trip to the grocery store. While there, a stranger spoke to her, saying, "Aren't you Steve's wife? You guys should think about buying the Fieldcrest Cannon office."

Pillowtex, another textile producer, had bought the facility that was soon to close. The asking price for the 30-acre manicured campus with a 70,000-square-foot office was $1 million. Church leaders met and soon put in an offer of $325,000. While waiting for a response, Griffith personally contacted the Pillowtex officer in charge of the property and was told their offer probably would not be accepted.

Griffith told the man, "I'm sure you're aware of the tax write-off you could have. I don't know if this means anything to you or not, but I believe God honors people who honor Him." The Pillowtex employee told Griffith that his own father was a pastor and that he would get back to them with an answer.

After some negotiation, Osborne purchased the campus for $375,000. One member handed Griffith a check for the entire purchase price, and the congregation as a whole gave a one-time cash offering of $300,000 in addition to $2 million in pledges. By the end of 2004, Osborne had paid off its entire debt.

More than 1,000 people now meet weekly for worship in the building God promised to Griffith during his prayerwalk, and Osborne Baptist continues to grow amid Eden's population decline.

Kevin Garrison, who ministers to 200-plus kids each week as Osborne's children's ministry director, credits Griffith for being a gifted leader and visionary. "Steve made up his mind to plant his feet and win people to the Lord and to find out what would work in our generation. And he's never looked back," Garrison said. "He's implemented things that people are willing to give their time and money to."

Walter Shepherd was one whose life changed when he crossed paths with the new Osborne Baptist Church in 1994. A dentist and orthodontist by trade, Shepherd now heads up the congregation's marriage ministry. He gives a very open testimony of how he and his wife of 24 years, though they were committed Christians, were struggling in their marriage, leading to an affair and his decision to abandon the marriage.

"Everything began crashing down when I got a phone call extorting money," Shepherd said. At that point, he decided to bring his affair into the open.

The couple did not receive a lot of help from their own church, but their housekeeper, Griffith's wife Jenny, invited them to attend Osborne's passion play. "We started attending OBC, and we began to see what it was like to live in community with people who were forgiven and not afraid to tell their stories," Shepherd said.

When old friends inquired about their move to Osborne Baptist Church, Shepherd said the attitude was, "Isn't that a church for the desperate?"

"Initially I was taken aback, but then said, 'Yeah, that's exactly right, and that's me!'" He added, "The church has been so amazing about seeing people's lives change. The openness and being transparent -- I don't think I've ever been in a church where nobody needs to take the credit. It has been quite a ride."

The Shepherds have been involved at Osborne for 12 years and lead Wednesday night marriage courses two or three times a year as part of the church's "Power Classes" program.

Jeff Lynch and his wife were regular churchgoers when they visited Osborne after moving to Eden from Winston-Salem in 2002. Lynch, who soon was recruited to play Jesus in the Easter production, recounted, "I'd never had acting experience, so I went from nothing to playing the major role. It grew me in a lot of ways because I really had to depend on God."

Then the Lynches went on a mission trip to India. "I went from just going to church, to the play, to the big mission trip," he said. "God really showed me how big He was and what He could do through my life. I began to think I wanted my life to mean more."

Lynch told Griffith he sensed God might be calling him into ministry. God began giving him a burden for youth and Griffith approached him about becoming Osborne's youth director. Lynch left his management position at a textile plant two years ago and now ministers to about 80 Eden-area kids.

Though the Easter passion play had impacted many individuals like Shepherd and Lynch, Griffith began to sense that the time for another change had arrived. "We realized that 90 percent of the people coming were from other churches," he said. He sensed God telling him not to use the resources at Osborne to minister to other churches.

They began to shift their energies from the intense efforts required to produce the passion play to drawing in the unchurched in the community on a regular basis. Two "hooks" with which they fish regularly are creatively presenting the Gospel message in worship services and quality children's programs and opportunities.

Griffith preaches expository sermons through books of the Bible about half of the year. But he and his ministry team devote the other six months to innovative topical messages that generate curiosity and make it easy for church members to invite the lost to come and hear the Gospel at Osborne. "Survivor: Eden" involved the filming of a cast tackling different challenges -- and the congregation voted someone off the cast each Sunday. Griffith used the videos to segue into sermons on "Surviving Difficult Times," "Surviving Parenting," "Surviving Divorce" and finally "Surviving Eternity."

Other past themes include "C.A.R.S." (Connect, Align, Restore, Shine) and "Lord of All Things," during which the stage was decorated like "Lord of the Rings" middle earth. The most recent theme, "Dirty Jobs: Cleaning Up the Relationships in Your Life," was a six-week series in which Griffith himself was filmed doing different dirty jobs around town.

Griffith sandblasted the inside of a million-gallon water tank, milked 150 dairy cows and worked at the county landfill to transition to messages on cleaning up conflict, using the "pure milk" of God's Word to tame one's tongue, and getting the garbage out of marriage. The series ended on Palm Sunday, with Griffith standing in front of three crosses to tell about the dirtiest job ever done, saying, "The cross means that our sin is forgiven, and without the blood of the precious Lamb of God there could be no forgiveness of sin. When He was experiencing horrible humiliation and pain and shame, He was thinking about us, because He wants to forgive us."

"It's about being creative," Griffith said, "and trying to make it so that when people come to our church they leave here not saying that it was 'cool' or 'fun' but 'what a great God!' We use that as a hook and it gets them in. When they get here, they get Jesus."

Whenever Griffith asks people why they selected a church, he often hears, "Because of what they have for my children." So Osborne Baptist Church's second "hook" has been reaching children in the community.

"We decided to really invest in this," Griffith said. "We decided to build a high-tech, Disney-esque playground and coffee shop. We know if we can get the kids here, we can minister to their families." Thus, "Kingdom Clubhouse" celebrated its grand opening on March 2 as Osborne's newest "hook."

The play area has two different sections in the same 1,200-square-foot room -- one for preschoolers and the other for elementary children. Older children access their area by climbing the inside of a 22-foot tree. Two spiral slides get them down from the area. The preschool area is a smaller version of the treehouse. Parents must register and obtain an access code to use the facility, providing a measure of security.

"We can't get kids out of there," Griffith said of Kingdom Clubhouse's appeal. "We have reports of kids waking up early saying, 'We have to get to church!'" And it has "surpassed our wildest expectations in terms of how many in the community are showing up," Griffith noted, though no official counts have been kept.

Griffith also is pleased with the One Way Café -- a place for parents to relax and visit while their children play. Church members staff the café, serving specialty coffees, salads, soups, deli sandwiches and hot dogs. Flatscreen monitors play continuous evangelistic messages, marriage moments and Christian music videos, depending on the type of audience present in the café, whether parents, children or teens.

Walking through the café one day, Griffith noticed a gentleman watching a short video talking about the love of Christ. "A tear ran down his face," the pastor said. "Lots of ministry is taking place.

"We're about Jesus. That's who we are. We'll do whatever it takes whenever we have to do it just to reach people."

"You shouldn't limit what you think God can do just because you're in a smaller area," Garrison, Osborne's children's minister, added. "Dream big. This can happen even in a small town!"

Kay Adkins is a writer based in Mountain View, Ark.

Download Story