Small church sees big results from prayer
"I believe that there is a mindset now that if I'm not a mega-church pastor, I don't count," Kenny Rawls, pastor of First Baptist Church in Nixon, Texas, told Baptist Press. "I want the nation to understand that the majority of churches that are Southern Baptist are smaller-population churches.
"God has planted that church there for a reason, and every pastor who carries the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a mega-church pastor," he said. "I want the smaller churches to realize they can reach people and make a difference to the Kingdom of God."
Rawls points to his own small congregation in a community that is 85 percent Hispanic, about 45 miles east of San Antonio. More than two years ago, the church decided to designate a prayer time each Tuesday morning.
"We really didn't have a big turnout," said Rawls, a master of divinity student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
But a few powerful prayer warriors emerged from the group, setting an example for the rest of the congregation.
"Prayer is a spiritual and a physical practice," he said. "It's sort of like going to the gym. When you go to the gym, you don't just go in there and start lifting enormous amounts of weight. You condition your body for it. Prayer is the same way, but I find that the more that you pray, the hungrier a person gets to pray."
Last December, the church's leadership team began to strategize about the prospect of revival that had been part of their prayers for nearly two years.
"People think revival is just a one-week thing that you put on to get lost people into your church and see if they'll be saved," Rawls said. "But the word revival actually comes from a Latin word. 'Re' means 'to do again,' and 'vive' means 'to live.' It literally means 'to live again.'"
They settled on 2 Chronicles 7:14 as a theme verse and began to unpack, phrase by phrase, what that verse means in a modern context. The verse says, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
Rawls said the group concluded that if they would do those four things mentioned in the verse, then God had promised to do those three things. To spread the message to the entire congregation, the deacons started hosting Sunday evening Bible studies in their homes. The church, like many these days, had been having low attendance at their Sunday evening services and decided to alter their approach.
"We decided to do home Bible study groups, and they worked out phenomenally well," Rawls said. "We were running just a few people on Sunday night and we basically doubled and tripled our numbers."
The groups studied what it means to be humble, what it means to pray, what it means to seek the face of God and what it means to turn from their wicked ways. All along, each group kept a poster board and a marker on hand.
"After they did their Bible studies on Sunday nights, we asked the participants to write down who it was that God was leading them to pray for," the pastor said. "They began to fill the poster boards up with people who maybe didn't know Jesus or maybe needed to have a closer relationship with Jesus or maybe were just struggling."
As the groups continued to meet, Rawls contacted the evangelism office at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to ask how he might secure a preacher for a revival event the church wanted to host in April. Someone there suggested he call Stan Coffey, pastor of The Church at Quail Creek in Amarillo.
"Stan Coffey has been a hero of mine for years," Rawls said, adding that he didn't believe Coffey, who preaches to a congregation of thousands each Sunday, would travel down to Nixon, a town of just over 2,000 people, and preach at a church with only 150 in attendance most Sundays.
But Rawls called Coffey anyway, and Coffey didn't hesitate to accept the offer. He even offered to pay his own way if the church couldn't afford the expenses, Rawls said.
"He has such a heart for God. We made contact multiple times prior to the revival where we would just get together and pray," Rawls said. "I can't tell you what it means to have a mega-church pastor who cares for a small town pastor like me. It's literally the heart of God. You don't see that very often, in my opinion."
Leading up to the revival, the home Bible study groups placed their poster boards in a prayer room at the church, where people signed up for time slots to pray around the clock for the people listed on the boards. Someone was at the church praying 24 hours a day for a full week before the revival, Rawls said.
During the four-day revival, First Baptist Nixon saw 84 people make public decisions for Christ. They were seeing God answer their prayers.
"We have had over 40 baptisms this year," Rawls said. "My first year we had 32, the second year we had 27, and we're over 40 this year. We've seen at present over 300 people come to the Lord in the past two and a half years. We're averaging about 150 on Sundays, but we're growing. Our worship services are very powerful. They're moving. God is at work in this town."
The week of July 28, the church had more than 200 children in Vacation Bible School.
"From the pulpit, I do not sacrifice the Word of God. We preach the message. We preach the Bible," Rawls said, noting that most of the Hispanic people who attend speak English. "We talk about sin. We talk about heaven and hell. We preach the Gospel in love, and we ask people to repent. People need to know that Jesus loves them."
Rawls has taken some heat from people who can't understand how a church that has seen more than 300 people accept Jesus in the past three years has only half that number in the pews each week. The main factor, he said, is that most of the people who are coming to Christ are coming from a strong culturally Catholic background.
"We have had people that literally have come to Jesus Christ, and because they have accepted Christ, their entire families have turned their backs on them," Rawls said. "We have a person here who joined our church from a Catholic background, accepted Jesus and was baptized. Their family went and purchased a tombstone and put the person's name on it. In other words, they were saying, 'You're dead. We don't even know you.'
"What you've done is you've gone against all of their culture. That's why these people who have accepted Christ, for many of them it's real, but there now is that internal struggle," he said.
Despite the culture he's up against, Rawls continues to push his congregation toward prayer and make frequent visits to people who still need to know Jesus or be encouraged in their new life in Christ.
"It is so possible for God," he said. "We limit God, and it is possible for small churches to blow the doors off because people want to hear about Jesus Christ."
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.