FROM THE STATES: Tenn., Fla., N.C. evangelism/missions news; Church realizes 'We can do this!'
Today's From the States features items from:
Baptist & Reflector (Tennessee)
Florida Baptist Witness
Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)
Revitalization at Tenn. church despite
large facility, small congregation
By Connie Davis Bushey
MARYVILLE, Tenn. (Baptist & Reflector) -- Doug Hayes had driven past Everett Hills Baptist Church here many times. But that day he felt God tell him to submit his resume for the pastorate of the church.
He wouldn't have done it if it weren't for that nudge by God, he said.
He knew the congregation had declined and was struggling. The church's large downtown facility was old and looked it. This was clear to anyone driving by, he added. Hayes had never visited the church though he had grown up knowing about it. He was raised in Friendsville.
The nudge he felt that day was like the nudge he experienced when he and his wife, DeAnn, were called to serve overseas through the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
Now they were back from Southeast Asia so Doug could recover from an illness.
The couple prayed in response to the nudge from God about Everett Hills Baptist just like they had when they were about to serve in a rain forest or in a big city overseas, recalled Hayes. We prayed, "Let us be happy; let us be content with that," recalled Hayes, who served with DeAnn in Southeast Asia for eight years.
A few months later when he was called as pastor of Everett Hills Baptist, he found an older congregation of about 110 people dwarfed by an 800-seat sanctuary and a facility in disrepair.
Today, just three years later, Everett Hills Baptist draws about 250 people to Sunday morning activities, has added one staff person, and has repaired and updated much of its facility.
"God showed up," reported Hayes.
The first thing the congregation needed was hope, said Hayes.
"They were not really looking for the future."
So he reminded the members that God "took 12 disciples and changed the landscape of the world. ...
The church had a lot of things going for it, said Hayes. It was debt-free, in the main part of town, close to Maryville College, and in a community which was changing but growing again. For instance, a public high school located across the street had been closed but then turned into a park and recreation center.
Finally, he observed, the members "really loved the Lord."
The church may have had a mission statement, but it did not have a missional strategic plan, said Hayes. Of course, he knew of the importance of being missional because of his recent work overseas.
So the church named a strategy team which developed a plan using Acts 1:8 as a guide. The team developed projects for its "Jerusalem," "Judea," "Samaria," and "outer parts of the world" for 2013.
Some of the projects members planned over the last two years have included a marriage retreat to reach their neighbors, free movie nights on its parking lot for the community, several projects to involve students at Maryville College including giving them free bicycles, and renovating the children's area of its facility in stages so the church could remain debt-free.
To reach its "Samaria," Everett Hills members planned ways to share the gospel with cross-cultural people. To reach the outer parts of the world, the projects involved ways to spread the gospel in closed access areas.
The first missional strategic plan for 2013 was developed and written down. Then it was adopted and signed by all members in a covenant-making exercise, explained Hayes.
Some members were skeptical about the church being able to do everything on the plan.
Amazingly, at the end of 2013, all of the strategic plan for Everett Hills Baptist had been accomplished.
"They realized, 'Wow, we can do this!'" stated Hayes.
The plan helps folks, especially Gen-Xers, Gen-Yers, and Millennials, "know we have a purpose," know the details, and that "we are serious about what we're doing here," said Hayes.
Instead of catering to people, the main thing we're about is "changing the world for the Lord," he added.
For instance, Everett Hills didn't change its style of worship for several reasons, explained the pastor. Church leaders decided that if young adults bought into the strategic plan of a church, style of worship was not the most important issue. Hayes did predict that the style of worship will gradually change as the congregation continues to grow. Unity is more important than style of worship, he added.
Because of the amazing accomplishments in 2013, the ideas for the 2014 strategic plan had to be reined in some, but at least the congregation was enthused about the future, said the pastor.
That is clear from the fact that one of its long-range strategic plans is to place a person or couple on every continent in the world to do missions work.
Another impact of the development of the missional strategic plan was that church leaders studied the church budget and adjusted it for the new missional focus. Now about 52 percent of the budget is allocated for missions and ministry, said Hayes.
Of course, prayer was an essential strategy of the revitalization and was already being conducted by a Tuesday morning men's prayer group when Hayes arrived. The group continued to pray, especially for specific needs such as for couples to lead certain age groups in the church and God answered those prayers.
Revitalization of a church is "not about your skills and abilities. God has to show up. God's got to be in it," declared Hayes.
Cross-generational events also are a key element of the revitalization. They are held regularly to help the long-time members, who are usually older, get to know the newer members, who are usually younger. The events are usually held every two months.
To reach college and career folks, Hayes and church leaders called a full-time minister. It seemed illogical to some members since Everett Hills had very few attending in that age group at the time. Yet taking the risk worked, noted Hayes, and the new minister drew those folks to join the congregation.
Another risk church leaders took in its strategic plan was inviting groups to use its facility. For instance, the church opened the facility to a 4-H group who held a regular BB gun shooting event in a big room of Everett Hills.
As a result, a family joined Everett Hills.
Hayes observed that a church involved in revitalization may need to seek new members who are new to the community. He explained that often long-time residents have preconceived notions about a church which doesn't allow them to "buy into trying to revitalize a church."
Thankfully, the dynamic at the church has changed, the pastor reported. "We now believe we are alive."
Recently, on a celebration Sunday, 422 people gathered to worship at Everett Hills. Over the past few weeks new members have ranged from people who are 70 years old to 20 years old.
When Everett Hills has 700 people regularly worshiping on Sunday mornings, instead of planting a church or satellite church, it will send out about 25 "of our best people" to help revitalize another church, based on what has happened here, said Hayes.
Concerning churches, he believes church plants are needed to reach people for Christ, that some churches need to close, and that some churches need to be revitalized.
A key for all churches is being missional, stated Hayes.
"Missions is not a duty. It's a lifestyle."
This article appeared in the Baptist & Reflector (http://tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Connie Davis Bushey is news editor of the Baptist & Reflector.
Native son yearns for his
S. Fla. neighbors to know Jesus
By Barbara Denman
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Florida Baptist Witness) -- Growing up in a Mexican-American family of farmworkers in Homestead's low income Redlands Labor Camp left Alex Pecina vulnerable to all of society's ills—drugs, gangs and violence. But he was saved from a self-destructive path when a personal crisis brought him "to his knees" and his life was transformed by Jesus Christ.
Choosing now to plant a new church in his South Dade County hometown, Pecina has a burden for the spiritual condition of others who walk similar steps as he did as a teenager and prays he can be an instrument of Christ's redeeming love.
"I have a desire to see my community come to know Jesus," said Pecina. "We are focusing on making disciples, sharing the saving message of Jesus Christ and helping other Christians pursue spiritual disciplines including prayer and fasting."
Just weeks after its Feb. 22 launch, 60 persons attended services at Summit Church which meets Sunday nights in the former sanctuary of an independent church just minutes from downtown Homestead, located 30 minutes south of Miami.
"We are reaching people who are coming together for something new, who may have given up on church from past experiences, and people who are coming back because of relationships," said Pecina.
Through the credibility of his lifestyle and faith, he is drawing many who watched his consistent Christian walk.
"Honestly, I have never been part of a church plant," said Kevin Pierre. "But I knew Alex and knew he felt convicted about planting a church, so I came," he explained.
"And while I am comfortable here, Alex also makes me uncomfortable because he keeps challenging me to work in the body of Christ and to serve Him humbly."
"We have similar backgrounds," said J.R. Hamilton, "a life without Christ and then came to know Christ. I want to grow spiritually and be challenged. I knew he would push me spiritually."
"This is not just another church," the young man continued, "This is a church with a purpose being intentional about serving others."
For the past three years, Pecina served as campus pastor of Miami's Christ Fellowship in nearby Redland while working bivocationally as a teacher. In that role, the 29-year-old cared for the congregation, set a vison for the campus and developed leaders.
But he yearned to start a smaller church with "a family feeling you can't really get in a mega church." And that led to the birth of Summit Church.
Pecina continues to receive mentoring and financial support from Christ Fellowship. He also receives support from Florida Baptist Convention church planting assistance and is involved in the Convention's church planter training program at the Urban Impact Ministry Center in Hialeah.
He and his wife, Laura, who helps lead worship at Summit Church, "are starters," Pecina said, explaining their excitement in creating something new.
The couple began dating at age 16 and married four years later. But in the early years of their relationship, he admitted, they were engaging in premarital sex. When she became pregnant at 17, and subsequently miscarried, he knew God was working through the circumstances to change his life.
Though he had been exposed to the gospel through church, he did not have a personal walk with Christ.
"I knew if I kept going down the same road, I'd be in trouble. I needed a way out," he said. "I didn't think Jesus would make everything better, but it was different. He used that trial to bring me to my knees."
And his life has been transformed ever since. His anger subsided, his respect for women changed and his love for others increased, he said. He developed a passion to share his faith with others.
"Alex Pecina is the classic story of a migrant child raised in a rough environment who finds Christ at a critical time in his life," said Al Fernandez, lead strategist of the Florida Baptists' Church Planting Group and member of Christ Fellowship. "He was heading down a path of immorality and being another statistic."
The young pastor is better equipped to plant a church there than other church planters because "he is Homestead," Fernandez said, and knows the needs and culture in this agriculturally driven community and is well connected with family and friends.
"He is bright, humble and teachable," Fernandez said, and "seeks advice and coaching. That is not always a common combination of young pastors his age. Additionally, he is theologically sound and knows his Bible and theology well."
Immediately after the Holy Spirit worked in Pecina's life, an ordained Baptist minister who attended the same church invested in the young man's life, taught him spiritual disciplines and principles of leadership, while involving him in Bible study with a group of middle age men. At one point, the men presented him with a key to a town house for his family and explained they had paid the deposit and six months' rent.
"That was grace personified," said Pecina.
Now he hopes to emulate that grace in the lives of others.
This article appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness (gofbw.com), newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention. Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.
N.C. church project might
point way to new ministry
By Mike Creswell
CALABASH, N.C. (Biblical Recorder) -- Calabash is a coastal North Carolina town best known for its seafood restaurants.
But lately N.C. Baptist Men volunteers have been coming to this Brunswick County town to help River of Life Church get into a new building. More importantly, this single construction project might be historic.
It's the first chapter of a bold new ministry for N.C. Baptist Men to support the planting of new churches by helping them construct buildings.
Teams of volunteers with N.C. Baptist Men (also known as Baptists on Mission) have been working on River of Life Church's new building since last year. The partly completed metal building sits in a prime location beside U.S. Highway 17 at Calabash, not far from the South Carolina border. Other teams will help finish the building in coming weeks.
River of Life is a new church, started over the past two years by church planter Tom Gore, with backing from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina's (BSC) Church Planting Team.
The church has grown steadily, so much that it has outgrown the community club meeting rooms members have used for services at nearby Sunset Beach. But, as for most new churches, finding money for a meeting place was difficult.
A major breakthrough came last year when a local developer gave the church a whopping 45 acres of land along U.S. 17, a major coastal road that has seen steady development in recent years. Still, even with land provided, paying for a new building seemed impossible.
A second breakthrough came when leaders of N.C. Baptist Men wanted to explore creating a new cadre of volunteers to work on construction of new churches – and use River of Life for a test.
N.C. Baptist Men teams have constructed church buildings before, but on an irregular basis.
"We found that when volunteers were working on a church building, if a disaster struck, they would respond to the disaster, leaving the construction, since disaster relief was their main assignment," said Gaylon Moss, who oversees disaster relief and Baptist Builders for N.C. Baptist Men.
"We want to determine if we can assemble enough volunteers who would be willing to focus on construction related to new churches across the state, without reducing our disaster relief responses.
"The River of Life Church project is our first test of this. We won't know for a while if it will be a viable ministry for us."
Shared vision, partnership
Mark Gray is one Baptist leader hoping the Calabash project will be the first of many construction projects for newly planted churches.
"This volunteer effort with Baptist Men would be a special blessing from the Lord, because the cost of initial facilities is incredibly prohibitive for the majority of new churches," said Gray, head of the BSC's Church Planting Team.
Gray's consultants work with 100 to 150 church planters throughout the year, providing limited financial support, training, coaching and advice.
In 2014 they helped start 103 new churches, which equals starting a new church about every three days on average.
Collectively, those churches made 111,084 evangelistic contacts, registered 3,513 professions of faith and averaged having 5,300 people in worship services on Sunday, most of whom would not have been in any church apart from the new church being planted nearby.
Planting new churches is an important part of the convention's drive to reach North Carolina's estimated 5.8 million lost people.
"The average new church plant in America has a worship attendance of 84 after four years of existence," Gray noted.
More than half the new church plants are among the more than 300 people groups now calling North Carolina home.
N.C. Baptists support this church planting ministry through their Cooperative Program giving and their gifts to the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO).
Since both N.C. Baptist Men and the convention's church planting ministry receive funding through NCMO, a union of the two seems appropriate.
A promising concept
So far, the church construction concept looks promising, according to Gerald Williams, a Fayetteville resident and plumber by trade, who has led the River of Life project since last year.
"I've had no trouble getting volunteers," Williams said in late May.
"We've had teams coming from across North Carolina, plus from Georgia and South Carolina. We just had an eight-man team from Blue Ridge, Ga., who put in 460 feet of sewer and water lines."
River of Life is paying a construction company to erect a metal-walled, steel-framed building, using a loan obtained through the N.C. Baptist Foundation's church loan program. But the church is counting on volunteers to frame in the rooms and other work needed to get the building useable.
Volunteers can definitely save money. For example, a sewage lift station for the new building, required for pumping waste, would have cost $18,000 for a local contractor to provide and connect.
"We bought it for $11,000 and did it ourselves," Williams said.
A six-man team began the project by clearing six acres of the River of Life site for the building. They cut a road and cleared six acres of trees in a week, leaving the ground ready to be graded.
Blessed by God
To Williams, having so few workers accomplish so much in so few days was just another indication that River of Life Church has been blessed by God.
"The church can only succeed. There's no way it's going to fail," Williams said. "So far, every step has been doubted, but each time it worked out."
Several area churches have given support, such as housing volunteers who come to work.
True, the project has had the usual sorts of delays that slow construction projects, such as an unusual string of bad weather, plus delays in permits and architectural plans.
Volunteers started framing in the rooms at the beginning of June, after the building, steel work and insulation was completed at the end of May. As the metal shell for gatherings has taken shape, Gore has focused on getting the actual church – the members – to also take shape.
Members teamed up with an outreach ministry earlier this year to make evangelistic visits, talking to people around Calabash about Jesus and handing out 975 Bibles. Twenty people prayed to receive Christ as Savior. Visitors are still dropping by to check out River of Life's services because of that outreach, Gore said.
An ongoing ministry at a local school has also flourished. Five people who teach or work at the school have joined River of Life in the past two years, he said.
Gore tells of individuals and families he has met with, prayed with and led to faith in Christ.
He believes many people are just waiting for the new building to be ready before they start attending.
"We expect growth to pick up even more," he said.
Gore dreams of partnering with a nearby group to establish a pregnancy crisis center on the church's new site. And he's already counting seats.
"The new sanctuary will seat about 220 or so, depending on how we arrange them," he muses.
Going to two Sunday morning services may come sooner rather than later, he thinks. A series of miracles have gotten River of Life to this point, and Gore is counting on more of the same as the church grows.
This article appeared in the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org) newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Mike Creswell writes for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
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.