A new home for a thirty-three-year old church in New York, a replanted church in Idaho, and a five-year-old church in West Virginia all have in common the fact that articles about them recently appeared in their local newspapers. The stories on these pages are summaries from the respective local or state convention papers. Articles about churches regularly appear in the pages of state Baptist newspapers. One about a North Carolina church seeing a baptism after a five-year drought is a case in point. But the fact that secular newspapers see the newsworthiness of Southern Baptist churches brings to mind the scriptural admonition from Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem: I tell you, [Jesus said,] if they [people celebrating His arrival] were to keep silent, the stones would cry out (Luke 19:40, CSB).
The “stones” in this case start with the Watertown (New York) Daily Times, which on April 21 published an article titled “Long Falls Baptist Church moves into a new home in Carthage” 1.
Ten years after selling its previous building, Long Falls Baptist Church, started in the early 1980s, moved into its “new” building in late April. A former 2,400 square-foot office building was renovated into a church—with fifty cushioned blue chairs—by the land developer who helped arrange the sale so he could purchase the church’s bare-land property.
It’s a great story of a church’s faithfulness despite living “in transition” for the last ten years, and of a pastor’s commitment to shepherding his community and the church family despite no baptisms in the last nine years.
“Many years ago, an association in South Carolina sent the money to the church to buy a piece of property, about six acres, where they always planned on at some point to build a building,” Thom Sherwood told SBC LIFE in early May. Sherwood has been pastor of Long Falls Baptist Church since 2007.
“When I came here, the winter was very bad, and we have real winter here,” Sherwood continued. “The members decided the time was right, went into a capital fund-raising campaign and sold the old building in 2008. But then in the middle of 2009, the economy tanked.”
Through the next decade of moving first to a funeral home and then to an Episcopal church where pipes breaking this February led to severe building damage, the congregation fluctuated from a high of forty-five in 2010 to a low of eighteen in 2017. “We are a military community,” Sherwood said. “We’re just a few miles from the front gate of Fort Drum, home of the Army’s Tenth Mountain Division, and we’ve had a number of military families come and go through the years.”
The article in the Watertown Daily Times generated new interest in Long Falls Baptist Church, the pastor said.
“That article has given us some great publicity,” Sherwood said. “The first Sunday we had thirty people, and I’ve been working with an administrator to update our website [LongFallsBC.com], and also one of our young ladies just launched a Facebook page and Instagram account, so I’m hoping the Lord will bless and use those things.”
Long Falls Carthage gives 5 percent of undesignated income to missions through the Cooperative Program, and 3 percent to the Thousand Islands Baptist Association. Sherwood serves full time at the church with the added financial support of his wife Joan and pulpit supply at a Congregational church that meets earlier for worship Sunday mornings.
The second “stone”: Idaho Press Tribune, which on January 22 published “Nampa First Southern Baptist Church replants as Calvary Church” 2.
After Nampa First Southern voted in May 2017 to relaunch, Anders Snyder was called last August from Calvary [Southern Baptist] Church in Englewood, Colorado, as lead pastor/elder.
Calvary Englewood, which replanted itself after Mark Hallock was called to the dying church in 2009, has made planting and replanting churches a main emphasis. Today, eighteen planted, replanted, and adopted churches in four states affiliate with the Calvary family of churches, according to Erica Myeni, a church spokesperson.
Most of the former First Southern Nampa members are still active at Calvary Nampa, where the most visible changes are in the outside signage and launching of a new website—Nampa.TheCalvary.org—and Instagram and Facebook accounts.
“But there also have been efforts to increase the relevance the church has in the city,” according to the article. “Members have visited more than two hundred homes in the last two months to get the word out.”
Calvary Nampa built its core during a “soft launch” that took place between August and February 11, when the “public launch” took place that 140 people attended a couple of weeks after the newspaper article appeared in print. Today, Snyder said, about ninety regularly attend services in the building once called Nampa First Southern.
That church’s best year in recent memory was 2009, when one hundred was the average worship attendance, according to Nampa First Southern’s ACP report. By 2017, fifty were attending and less than 1 percent of undesignated income went to missions through the Cooperative Program.
Today, Calvary Nampa gives 6 percent through CP, 1 percent each to Treasure Valley Baptist Association, the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention, and the Calvary family of churches, plus 2.6 percent to various specific missions/ministries of Calvary Nampa.
“It’s a neat story to brag on God,” Snyder told SBC LIFE. “As the Lord began to multiply [at Calvary Englewood], and they used that multiplication to have more Gospel representation in more places, we now [at Calvary Nampa] are able to take what God blesses us with, and use it from a Kingdom perspective.”
As a result of its replanting, Calvary Nampa members experience “a certain buzz and excitement, a special joy, and now expectation as they see what God has done and ask what He is doing next,” the pastor continued.
“We’re settling into our new identity,” Snyder said. “There’s a lot that lies ahead, but it’s been neat seeing the process develop.”
Third “stone”: The Exponent Telegram/North Center West Virginia Media, which on April 22 published “Churches continue to see people participate each week, bring in new members” 3.
This was an interesting article of three churches, leading with the Salt and Light Southern Baptist Church of Clarksburg, West Virginia, which shows a glaring difference between Southern Baptist churches and those that don’t reach out evangelistically.
Founding pastor Don Knotts returned to his home town five years ago to start Salt and Light Southern Baptist Church, after sixteen years as the pastor of Wayside Southern Baptist Church in Buckhannon, West Virginia.
“God orchestrated the plant and blessed me to come along and do it,” Knotts told SBC LIFE.
“We began with life groups meeting in various places, homes, and restaurants, and now also are meeting [for Sunday worship] at the Days Inn in Bridgeport until God provides us with property and a building,” Knotts said. Bridgeport and Clarksburg are adjoining towns.
“At present we have eight candidates for baptism,” the pastor continued. “We have to wait for the weather to be cooperative.”
While the church could use the pool at Days Inn to baptize, that wouldn’t be as public an event as it should be, Knotts explained. He prefers an historic baptism site in Harrison County called Center Branch, “where everyone can see the baptisms taking place and each new believer’s declaration of new life in Christ,” Knotts said. “I love baptizing new believers and to date I’ve not lost any to the river.”
Salt and Light Southern Baptist Church gives 10 percent of undesignated income to missions through the Cooperative Program, and another 5 percent to Monongahela Baptist Association.
“I’ve been a Southern Baptist for more than thirty years,” Knotts said. “I believe in tithing and being a good steward. It’s not just a Southern Baptist thing. It’s obedience to God.
“Furthermore, I believe in the Cooperative Program and what it supports: missionaries both IMB and NAMB—and my wife Tammy and I are missionary church planters—plus church planting, our seminaries, Disaster Relief, and so much more. I believe we can accomplish so much more together than we can apart.”
In addition to participating in women’s, church-wide, and youth “Boost” small groups, and the local missions projects each group undertakes, members in 2017 stuffed more than 240 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child and sent several members to help at an OCC distribution center.
“How can we accomplish all this? It’s by having 90 percent membership participation,” Knotts said.
Salt and Light Church also has an ongoing partnership with Cedar Bay Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, with each church helping the other onsite every other year.
“Our mission is to be salt and light wherever we go, preserving life and scattering darkness in the name of Jesus,” the pastor said. “We’re looking to engage our community by evangelizing this area and seeing the lost come to Christ. Our goal is to love God, love people, and make disciples.”
Planting a church is different from pastoring a church, Knotts said he has learned. “This old dog has had to learn some new tricks, like ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff; God’s got this.’ God knows the end from the beginning and is bringing both together to accomplish His will for His glory.”
Salt and Light Southern Baptist Church is to be constituted from mission to full-church status at the annual meeting of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists in November.
If secular newspapers are akin to “stones” shouting out about God’s glory, the state Baptist newspapers could be compared to the Old Testament prophets as together they build unity, point readers to God’s involvement in their lives, and herald the stories of what God is doing among them. Following is an example from one of forty state Baptist publications.
North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder published a February 6 article, “Baptismal waters stir again at Cedar Rock”4.
Two people, both in their twenties, were baptized January 14 at the church, the first in nearly a decade, according to Pastor Nathaniel Williams.
“Williams said the congregation was encouraged by the special occasion, calling it a sign of ‘God’s faithfulness to us and to the community,’” according to the article written by Seth Brown.
In Williams’s first fulltime pastorate, he’s been preaching verse-by-verse through the New Testament book of Matthew. “I was learning how to preach, and there’s no better way to learn how to preach than letting Jesus preach,” Williams was quoted in the article as saying.
The congregation is committed to prayer, Williams added. A “steadfast” group meets on Wednesday nights to pray for the church. A number of elderly members unable to attend services also pray “persistently,” the pastor added.
In a day when many Christian mission strategies focus on cities, Williams said, “God hasn’t forgotten the rural churches. . . . God loves and cares for these people. If we come to them with a posture of love, God can work through that.”
Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for SBC LIFE and Baptist Press and is a member at First Baptist Church of Pleasant Grove, Utah.