FROM THE STATES: La., Ky., Fla. evangelism/missions news; 'If it matters to God, it matters to us'
Today's From the States features items from:
Louisiana Baptist Message
Western Recorder (Kentucky)
Florida Baptist Witness
New journeys begin at
'revived' La. church
By Brian Blackwell
PINEVILLE, La. (Louisiana Baptist Message) -- When James Greer surrendered to the ministry 30 years ago, he had a dream to one day baptize 100 people in a year.
That God-sized dream became reality on Dec. 13, 2015, when smiles, cheers and laughter were aplenty as Greer lowered Shelia Lowery -- the 100th convert of the year -- into the baptismal waters at Journey Church in Pineville.
Before year's end, 17 more new members were baptized.
But the pastor believes 2015 was only a sign of even greater things to come for Journey Church in the central Louisiana community of 1,400 it serves.
So far, the congregation has celebrated 20 baptisms toward its goal of 200 for 2016.
"It's way more about the people than the pastor," Greer said. "We have the friendliest people this side of heaven. In fact, I love our church so much."
Changed lives have been the norm since Greer and his congregation at Lee Heights Family Church moved to the former site of Donahue Family Church in 2009 and changed the name to Journey Church.
Since then, 368 new converts have been baptized and another 147 additional people have made professions of faith (515 spiritual commitments in all).
One of the church's core values is "Growing People Change" and its motto is "I mess up, you mess up, we all mess up."
Journey Church has ministries that include Celebrate Recovery, professional counseling, hospital visitation and clothing and feeding the needy.
Executive pastor Josh Poe said the end goal is to see many hurting people experience transformed lives through Jesus Christ.
The surge in baptisms is just one piece of evidence that God is moving through Journey Church, he emphasized.
"We have a saying 'every number is a name, every name has a story, every story matters to God'," Poe said. "If it matters to God, it matters to us.
"We have some of the best and loving people at Journey," he continued. "It's people reaching out. We take care of people every week. We have all the elements in place for it to continue. God has just decided to start moving and we are trying to ride the wave while it's here."
A father and son, Jay and Randon Wooley, are among those whose lives have changed at the Journey Church.
Jay was baptized in March 2015 and Randon in August.
Even though nearly a year has passed since Jay was baptized, the moment seems like yesterday, he said.
"As soon as I was baptized, I felt like a load had been lifted," Jay explained. "My son being baptized is a close runner up to the proudest I've ever been. I don't cry but I did that day. I was on the stage playing the guitar. I gave him a high five on stage. To me it was surreal. Now there is a different bond between us."
Lowery said her journey to become the 100th baptism at the church for 2015 began while attending a women's Bible study group on Wednesday evenings and group sessions following Sunday morning services, after the death of her husband of 31 years. She said Journey Church helped her cope with grief and ultimately led the life-long Catholic to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
"The amazing fellowship, family atmosphere and, most important, the weekly sermons of Brother James continued to attract me weekly," Lowery said. "His weekly messages, dealing with everyday life struggles and God's love for each of us, no matter what we have faced, was then and continues to be a powerful healing tool in my life.
"Brother James' messages reminded me and continue to remind me weekly that I am a child of God, that no matter how hard life is I can do anything through Christ who gives me strength, a scripture that my boyfriend inscribed into my very first Bible that was a gift from him when I accept Christ as my savior," she continued. "I was blessed to be the 100th person baptized at Journey Church in 2015. That alone speaks a monumental blessing about this church."
This article appeared in the Baptist Message (baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Brian Blackwell is a staff writer for the Baptist Message.
'Energized churches' goal
of Ky. road trip
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Western Recorder) -- An evangelism road trip is looking to fire up Kentucky Baptist churches about meeting new people in their communities and introducing them to Jesus.
"There's no higher priority for a pastor than to lead his church to fulfill the Great Commission," said Chuck McAlister, "and there is no greater purpose for our team than to help churches be the best Great Commission churches they can be."
The McAlister-led Evangelism and Church Planting Team at the Kentucky Baptist Convention will embark on a nine-city jaunt over the coming months called LIFE Tour, breaking down the acronym by equipping churches to Look, Identify, Focus and Engage groups within the local community.
The first stop is First Baptist Church of Mount Vernon on March 10. Other locations include Bowling Green, Clinton, Flemingsburg, Frankfort, Hebron, Lexington, Louisville and Pikeville.
"It is our desire to help pastors build strong, stable, energized churches as they evangelize their communities on four specific pillars," McAlister said.
Those pillars are:
-- Personal evangelism
-- Corporate or community evangelism
-- Church planting and/or multi-site development
-- Campus engagement
Each evangelism pillar offers a practical strategy to help churches maximize their reach of the lost.
McAlister said one of the more successful tools in personal evangelism is the Tell Your Story website. Since its introduction, tellyourstory.today has spread the Gospel across all 50 states, more than 70 countries and has led to at least 270 salvation decisions. On average, 500 unique listeners hear the Gospel each day.
"For so long, we as Southern Baptists have made evangelism an exercise of the head where we memorize gospel presentations or certain steps," he said. "But when people share the story of their encounter with Jesus Christ, it becomes an exercise of the heart."
In the area of community evangelism, KBC Affinity Evangelism Strategist Andy McDonald designed LIFE Project to identify and engage unique affinity groups within a church's geographic region.
"People are hungry for authentic relationships," McDonald said. "With LIFE Project, churches can create avenues to build those relationships within the community and, more importantly, point people to a real and authentic relationship with Christ."
Affinities groups gather around a mutual interest in sports, hobbies, schools, places of work or neighborhoods. Other affinity groups can be focused on community needs, such as addictions, family finances or helping newcomers adjust to life as migrant workers.
Kentucky Baptist churches received LIFE Project resources in the mail following the KBC Annual Meeting last November.
With newly energized existing members and an influx of new ones, churches may see a need to open an additional campus or plant an entirely new church. McAlister said this is when the trained experts at the KBC can walk alongside congregations and guide the way.
"If you want a great way to get your church focused on others, then engage in planting a church," McAlister said.
The fourth pillar is about mobilizing the next generation of believers.
Through a new initiative called Twelve24, churches can impact the lives of students, ages 12 to 24, with the help of one of nine regional Baptist campus missionaries.
"Kentucky has more than 900,000 students in the 12-to-24 window, and 95 percent of them are lost. It is the darkest generation this world has ever produced. And we should be engaging them with the gospel," said KBC Collegiate Evangelism Strategist Brian Combs.
Churches also have the option of partnering with self-funded campus missionary interns.
"Through our combined resources through the Cooperative Program, we can energize our churches and evangelize our communities, our state and the world," McAlister said. "Let our team help you."
To learn more about attending a LIFE Tour near you, call Andy McDonald at 502-489-3354 or visitwww.kybaptist.org/lifeproject.
This article appeared in the Western Recorder (westernrecorder.org), newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Historic Fla. church
embraces growth, diversity
By Barbara Denman
IMMOKALEE, Fla. (Florida Baptist Convention) -- As with any 100-year-old church, First Baptist Church of Immokalee has seen its share of ebb and flow. But after a period of trouble and decline, the revitalized congregation has found new growth, a sense of stability and diversity that more closely mirrors its Southwest Florida community.
"We knew we had to go in a different direction than we had been in the past," said long-time Deacon Bill Bethea. "We had gotten to the point where we needed to change our methodology while at the same time keep the message the same -- the gospel of Jesus Christ."
The church has evolved from a predominately Anglo senior adult congregation to one that is intentionally reaching young families, African Americans, Hispanics and Haitians.
"We have increased in attendance, bringing in young couples, young adults under the age of 30 and children as young as six months," said Bethea. "It's been amazing."
A key ingredient in that growth was the calling of 25-year-old Timothy Pigg as pastor, who offered "youthfulness and energy" to the struggling congregation, said the deacon.
They found in him "a spiritual maturity and scriptural insight that surprised us in a 25-year-old," Bethea added.
Pigg and his wife Jessica came to the church after he completed his degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Members of his new congregation came to his ordination at First Baptist Church of Naples, where his father, Doug, serves as executive pastor.
When he arrived, Pigg said the makeup of worship services was 85 percent Anglo and 15 percent other ethnics. Now he estimates the composition to be 60-40 percent; and hopes soon will be "equal of all races."
The church added Hilario Perez, a young Hispanic man who had come to know Christ as his Savior in the church, as associate pastor who leads young adults in Bible study on Sunday morning and student ministry on Wednesday nights.
The church is aggressively reaching out in the predominantly agricultural community in a variety of ways.
Recently, the church began a Spanish ministry, led by bivocational pastor Raul Puente, who distributed more than 600 fliers in neighborhoods and Hispanic businesses.
The location of the past year's fall festival was moved from inside the church building to a "trunk and treat" activity in the parking lot, a switch the pastor believed it would help reach out to non-churched people. Over 1,000 people attended and 300 pounds of candy were distributed, Pigg reported. Additionally hundreds of photos were taken of the youngsters that are being delivered to homes of children, another way to connect with families.
Pigg, who had played football in high school and coached while in seminary, began coaching the sport at the local school, building relationships with players and parents. At least two students have accepted Christ as a result of his witnessing.
Baptismal waters have stirred with new Christians ten times since Pigg's arrival, the pastor said.
In February, the church will hold block parties in migrant neighborhoods working with other Spanish-speaking congregations, distributing hygiene kits and disposable cell phones for the workers to make contact with loved ones back home.
The church will also partner this summer with seven area churches for a community wide vacation Bible school to be held at First Baptist Church, which has the largest facility in the city. "Our goal is not to grow this church, but to get the gospel out in the community," said Bethea.
While so many changes can easily result in conflict in other congregations, long-time church members relished them, said Benny Zipperer. "If its good changes that bring glory to God, I'm in favor of sharing the gospel with more people."
Prior to Pigg's arrival at the church, an intentional interim pastor, Gary Merkel was invaluable in paving the way for the congregation to make changes toward a new direction. His role cannot be missed, said Pigg. "He was an encourager to our people who were nursing fresh wounds from darker days."
"We now have the vision to see the Gospel planted in the hearts of people both in this community, Southwest Florida and beyond. We are determined to be a 'Word-centered' people with worldwide impact from here in Immokalee."
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 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.