Tim Watts became a member of Central Baptist Church via a traditional baptismal ceremony. But his road to receiving Christ as Savior began in an unconventional classroom filled with cars, a lift, and the smell of grease.
The twenty-four-year-old utility company lineman is the first convert from a Thursday evening Bible study taught by Frank Johnson. It meets in his 26-by-62-foot garage, a neighborhood hangout for car enthusiasts and racing buffs.
Up to a dozen men gather for an hour-long lecture by the instructor, who uses outlines compiled from Bible commentaries and past LifeWay Sunday school lessons he taught at Central in Winchester, Ky.
"He made it interesting," said Watts, who lives in nearby Richmond. "Before, I didn't understand what was going on (at church). But he's down to earth. I understood what he was trying to get across and what he was telling us.
"The more I knew him," he added, "the more I wanted to be like him."
"My motivation is to reach and teach unchurched people," Johnson said. "One of the main things in my life and the most important thing Christians have today is evangelism. I couldn't get some of these guys to church."
The longtime Sunday school teacher organized the class after retiring last January. The son of an auto mechanic, he looked forward to turning a longtime hobby into a daily endeavor.
One day in his garage a friend asked, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could start a study out here and reach people who don't go to church?"
"I started praying about it, but I didn't have to pray very long," Johnson said.
One factor was the rough language he often heard from visitors. It got so bad he threatened to put up a sign prohibiting profanity.
Instead, he started inviting everyone who walked through the door to attend his new Bible study.
Watts is the only one to join a church since the class started March of last year. But two other men appear to be close to making a decision to follow Christ, Johnson said.
Among the other students are a man who grew up in a Baptist church and recently visited Central with his wife, and a member of a different denomination. The latter has been an enthusiastic participant and recently requested the teacher cover certain topics.
"It's exciting to see a guy get interested in God's Word and have an opportunity to let it speak to him," Johnson said.
Terry Craycraft, the friend who suggested starting the sessions, has invited several car enthusiasts or men he thought would be comfortable in the unique setting.
He believes most who attend would do so even without the lure of refreshments and "car talk" afterwards.
"I think most of the ones who come are interested in the lessons," said the self-employed woodworker. "Several guys hang around the shop and Frank always invites them. They get ribbed by other guys, too, so I think they'll come around."
Associate Pastor Dennis Wainright had never heard of a Bible study meeting in a garage during his twenty-three years at Central Church. But the recent baptism and word-of-mouth about the study have created excitement among members, he said.
"I think, 'Gosh, why don't we have more of this going on, with woodworkers and others?'" the pastor said. "Someone could do the same thing with another group."
One member has picked up on the idea. Carl Kaiser, already involved in a ministry to juveniles at the county detention center, started a Bible class in his home last summer. The children, ages five to nine, heard a Bible story, made crafts, and learned to pray.
The weekly class only lasted for the summer; Kaiser couldn't find a mutually agreeable time for everyone after school started. But he intends to resume this spring.
While Johnson's example helped motivate him, his work with juveniles made him think about taking preventive measures with younger children. He also drew inspiration last spring from a visiting missionary to Brazil.
"It broke my heart when he talked about kids with no parents," Kaiser said. "He said, 'You've got to show children love, and you've got to show 'em discipline before they'll understand love.' After that I really jumped in on this study."
While none of the children have joined the church, one girl has visited several times. He encourages others in the neighborhood to continue praying.
No matter what the results, Johnson said a key to starting a neighborhood Bible study is motivation. If it's aimed at church members, then it should be done at church, he said.
"I don't want to be in conflict with my church, I want to be in concert with it," he said. "We can reach people, get 'em in church and be an extension of the ministry of my own church."