Making a Splash

By Karen L. Willoughby

If you’ve ever driven through Lingleville, you probably weren’t there long.

Located about 85 miles west of Fort Worth and 85 miles east of Abilene, this tiny Erath County town is home to fewer than 100 residents and features a small country store, a volunteer fire department, a post office—and not much more.

That’s what makes the work God is doing at Lingleville Baptist Church all the more exciting.

The church grew from the 55 people who called Ryan Hurt as pastor in 2015 to a congregation of 250 by late 2019. COVID hit in the spring of 2020, leading the church to temporarily meet online. Before long, in-person worship resumed, the church continued to offer its services online, and now several hundred people watch via the web each week, in addition to the explosion of people attending onsite, according to Hurt.

“We went from 55 folks in 2015 to now running 700-plus between two services. It’s been the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” Hurt said. “We are building a 1,200-seat auditorium to accommodate the growth. Talk about the Lord moving on this little hill.”

Until construction is complete on the new worship center and education space, the church will continue to worship in its family life center—where services were moved after it outgrew the sanctuary. Growth continues week after week, Hurt said, as members of the congregation use word of mouth to tell others about the gospel and the church.

“We have a whole section of people out there because I’ve invited them,” said Curtis Green, a mechanic who has been attending for two years. “I tell them if you don’t know Jesus, you need to come to Lingleville Baptist Church. The Holy Spirit is in the building. It’s amazing.”

Rancher Gary Clayton, a member for six years, said he invites people to church everywhere he goes—grocery stores, gas stations, banks. Clayton said the church hosts events frequently, including crawfish boils, father/son campouts, crochet clubs and family nights, making it a popular center of activity in such a small community.

The church offers the ministry for people in their 20s and 30s, a ministry called Overcomers for those recovering from life-limiting choices, a marriage ministry called Re-engage that meets on Sunday nights and vibrant opportunities for men, women, students and children.

“It’s such an easy church to fall in love with,” Clayton said. “We have a pastor who is on fire for God and the Holy Spirit just moves in our church. It’s a phenomenal place.”

Lingleville Baptist Church has become a center of activity in such a small community, providing plenty of opportunities for people of all ages. Most importantly, the church is using its influence to deliver the gospel to people beyond its city limits.

The church’s ministry area spreads out 11 miles south to Dublin, 10 miles west to Desdemona and 10 miles north to Huckabay. Hurt said the church’s “come as you are” atmosphere has drawn people from all walks of life to hear the gospel.

Hurt was once one of those people. He had a 12-year career in country music before a near-fatal car crash redirected his life back to his early Christian roots. Though his wife, Melissa, was not raised in church, she knew their lives needed something different following the wreck. “We’ve got to do something different,” Hurt recalled his wife saying to him, suggesting they go to church.

God took care of the rest, calling Hurt to ministry and allowing him to lead a congregation in Lingleville that welcomes all comers.

“It’s as diverse as you can be out here in the middle of nowhere … famous rodeo folks, Dutch dairymen, recovering addicts, lawyers, college students, housewives, truck drivers, college professors and lots more,” he said. “The gospel truly brings everyone together.”

Local ministry focuses on once-a-month meals for the faculty and staff at the Lingleville Independent School District. A live nativity production tells the whole story of Jesus, from His birth to the empty tomb, at Christmastime. The three-day production saw about 1,200 people come through this past December, the pastor said.

Reaching beyond Lingleville, the church has taken mission trips to do maintenance work at a small associational camp in Oklahoma.

“The main thing [we tell people] is who they are in Christ, how important our relationship with the Lord is, that we’re never so far gone God can’t meet us where we’re at, and the importance of going and sharing the good news,” Hurt said. “It’s the Great Commission. The people here, when they see—when they understand—what the Lord is doing, what He’s done, what He wants to do in and through us as faithful followers of Jesus empowered by the Holy Spirit, it changes everything.”

This article originally appeared at the Texan Online.

Published December 8, 2023

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Karen L. Willoughby

Karen L. Willoughby is a correspondent for the Southern Baptists of Texas.