By Tobin Perry
Pastor Tim Jackson of Faith Fellowship Church in Johnson City, Tenn., greets Kenyans who are part of a church Faith Fellowship planted in the highlands of Kenya in cooperation with the International Mission Board. The church hopes to plant several other congregations in the region over the next few years. Jackson made the trip earlier this year, in part, to confirm Faith Fellowship’s commitment to the church plant. Photo courtesy Faith Fellowship Church
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – When Tim 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 value—sacrifice.’”
For more information about how you can be involved in helping a plateaued, declining or dying church, visit namb.net/revitalization.
Tobin Perry (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes for the North American Mission Board.