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By Tobin Perry
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – When
Jim Jackson became the pastor of Faith
Fellowship Church in Johnson City,
Tenn., in January 2013, his first move wasn’t what you might expect.
He closed the church.
The church had been near its
end for several decades as the community around it changed and the church didn’t
changed with it. Faith Fellowship seemed destined to become one of the 1,000 churches
Southern Baptists lose each year.
But God wasn’t finished with
the church quite yet.
Just 18 months since Jackson
closed it, God has brought Faith Fellowship new life. Today, where once stood a
dying Tennessee church, more than 160 people regularly worship together. Jackson
is among a growing trend of Southern Baptist church planters who are
demonstrating the gospel by replanting once-dying churches.
Yet Faith Fellowship’s story
of rebirth almost never happened. Jackson had been busy revitalizing a Kentucky Baptist church.
“It was one of the best
ministry experiences of my life,” Jackson said. His wife, Tina, had a well-paying
job as a nurse practitioner. Jackson wasn’t looking for a new assignment.
That’s when the couple
sensed God drawing them to medical school for Tina so she could have more
opportunities to share the gospel while practicing medicine. That meant a move
to Tennessee and before long Jackson saw the need for a church plant in their
new home community of Johnson City.
After the move, Jackson
started doing what he had done before when planting churches elsewhere. Along
with reaching out to nearby business, law-enforcement and educational leaders,
he also connected with local church leaders—such as pastors and the director of
missions—to learn about local needs and opportunities.
When one potential
opportunity came up in three separate conversations, Jackson took notice. Ben
Proffitt, the director of missions for the Holston Baptist Association, and two local pastors both recommended Jackson
consider re-planting Faith Fellowship.
After three months of prayer
by both Jackson and the 10 remaining people at Faith Fellowship, the church
asked him to become their new pastor. After closing the church, Jackson and his
team spent the next eight months developing partnerships and showering the
community with love. Jackson put eight NAMB church planting interns to work in the community. Those interns, he said, started each day with
an hour of discipleship before digging into their daily ministry assignments.
The Tennessee Baptist Convention also provided Faith Fellowship with a travel
team that prayerwalked and served the community for a week.
The new Faith Fellowship
team knocked on 10,000 doors, made 30,000 phone calls, mailed out 40,000
postcards and did a few dozen backyard Bible clubs.
“We launched [in August 2013]
with right at 280-300 people at our grand opening,” Jackson said. “God has been
really good. About 50 percent of the people we have are people who had become
disconnected from the church; they had just fallen away from the church. The
other 50 percent are people who were totally unchurched.”
Today about 160 people
attend Faith Fellowship most Sundays. Jackson now spends most of his time
developing and discipling leaders—such as elders, deacons and teachers. In
doing so Jackson makes sure the church is grounded in the gospel, he says.
As Jackson has focused his
attention on discipleship, God has transformed the church—both spiritually and
demographically—in the process.
“I went to the church [recently],”
Proffitt said. “There were older people with white hair still, but I’ve never
seen so many pregnant women. There were so many people who were young there.”
Friends invited Matt
Tefteller to Faith Fellowship this year. Jackson recently baptized him and his
daughter on the same day. Tefteller believes God has made him a much better
father and husband since he joined the church.
“I had been attending
different churches for years, but I guess I just never ‘got it’ until I started
going [to Faith Fellowship],” Tefteller said. “I just finally saw it. We’re a
close-knit family. We look out for each other.”
As Jackson focused on the
church’s gospel grounding, Faith Fellowship has gotten heavily involved in
church planting efforts in North America and around the world. Jackson has
intentionally built church planting—locally, nationally and globally—into the
DNA of the church.
Along with committed giving
to the Cooperative Program, Faith Fellowship helped plant churches in Kenya and
Guatemala with the help of the International
Mission Board. The church has also worked
with the North
American Mission Board to partner
with a church plant in New Orleans. Every
fifth Sunday Jackson challenges the church to make sacrifices to give to a fund
for church plants. Recently, the church sent several thousand dollars to help
the church plant in Kenya.
“It challenges our people to
see our God is big,” Jackson said. “He wants to stretch our faith. He wants us
to sacrifice things we like so we can spread the gospel. That’s our number one
For more information about
how you can be involved in helping a plateaued, declining or dying church,
Tobin Perry (email@example.com) writes for the North American Mission
Date Created: 7/17/2014 2:03:29 PM
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®© Copyright 2014 North American Mission Board, SBC