ELSBERRY – The rich 135-year history of FBC Elsberry has included overflow crowds. One service for the funeral of Congressman Clarence Cannon, member, was attended by former Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Harry S. Truman. But, in recent years, the church saw a decline. In fact, eleven years ago, the church was reduced to only about 15 members.
“We’ve been through lots of transition,” Redonda Heitman, a member since 1970, said. “Back when we had a slim crowd and a skeleton crew, every time someone left, we wondered how we would carry on, but God always provided what we needed.”
Five years ago, when Sam Byers, primary teaching pastor, was called to the church, the church had started to move forward. Sixty percent of the current membership joined in the last five years.
“Some good things were happening,” Byers said, “but more activity doesn’t mean real health. The church needed a reset.
“One of the first things that needed to be addressed,” he continued, “was a meaningful and regenerated church membership. As with many Baptist churches, there were false member rolls. Names were on the roll, but the people were not engaged with us.”
Heitman agreed that membership was an important hurdle. “Sam believes that our church needs functioning members,” she said. “We’ve had several young couples coming. He has a vision for the church.”
Four couples are currently in the new member class and will soon be added to the body. “We ask potential members to worship with us for a couple months,” Byers said. “We also want them to participate in one of our small groups so that we can get to know them.”
According to Byers, the class curriculum includes the confession of faith as well as the constitution and bylaws. “The next step is an elder interview,” he said. “It is important to hear them articulate the gospel and their response. We ask about baptism; where they were actively serving before and if they left on good terms. Finally, we ask why First Baptist and why the Lord is leading them here.”
After the interview, the potential member is presented to church. The congregation is given time to consider the membership.
“This is part of the shepherding process,” Byers said. “The members might be familiar with the manner of living of the potential member and tell an elder if there was a concern.”
“Membership is a seal of approval by the church,” he continued, “It is loving care for the potential member and a witness of the church.”
“The definition of our church,” Byers said, “is an elder-led, deacon-served, congregation involved body.”
Heitman shared the vision for the church and some of the positive current experiences. “It is awesome to see how God works,” she said. “God’s timing is not ours.”
She said the church was able to hire a worship leader and a youth pastor. The church also completed a major renovation to the church.
“It is wonderful to see how God is blessing,” she said, “what the pastor is doing.”