New building pumps life into First Neosho
NEOSHO—When driving down Highway 71 towards Neosho, the first sign of the small, thriving town is a large banner inviting travelers to First Baptist Church.
After a recent move to a new building and location, the historic church is ready to start a new chapter in its history. Ryan Palmer, the church’s pastor of six years, has been instrumental in bringing the congregation into a new vision for the future.
First Baptist Church began in 1847, the same year that Neosho was settled. Construction began on the first building in 1933, and the structure was completed in three phases by the year 1967. The original building in downtown Neosho served the congregation through the end of the century, when a new building campaign was started in 1998.
While the congregation remained steady and committed throughout its history, First Baptist has seen its greatest growth in the last seven years. The congregation was in a landlocked facility and ran out of education space. They had to rent the neighboring city auditorium for extra Sunday School rooms.
The church began praying for a new building in an area that would impact the community in new ways. Location was an important factor.
“It was just a Lord thing,” said Pastor Ryan Palmer. “The land was right off the new highway coming through Neosho. Other pieces of land weren’t available, so the church set aside a day of prayer and fasting, this land came available, and we bought it before it went on the market.”
The congregation took a leap of faith and purchased the plot before the highway was even finished. The new highway was the direction of growth in Neosho with new housing and business development. Construction began in May 2005; the facility was completed in April 2006.
The location has given the church the visibility and accessibility needed to appeal to new families in the area.
“We’ve seen new families come since the new building,” Palmer said. “The building itself has allowed us to start some new ministries, such as Upward Basketball and Cheerleading programs with the new gym.”
The new programs have been instrumental in allowing the church to interact with citizens in the community. The extra space has allowed the church to open its doors to community events, such as community banquets, Relay for Life events, and health screenings.
“These events have helped us become known in the community,” Palmer noted. Plans call for an expansion into the Upward Soccer program, allowing young families to interact with church members.
The completion of the new facility took nine years. The process led to a reshaping of the congregation’s vision.
“Our vision for nine years was the completion of this facility,” Palmer said. “Right now we are seeking from the Lord a bigger vision than just facilities. We desire a vision that entails evangelism, community outreach, and missions. We are trying to develop a strategy that launches us into these areas instead of just a focus on the building.”
The new vision was birthed through a series of evaluations and discussions.
“We went through a series of refocusing summits,” Palmer said. “The first was to evaluate where we are as a church. We developed a timeline of the last 20 years of experiences, events, and persons that shaped us, both positive and negative. We tried to draw out the different lessons God had been teaching us and what values we had developed.”
The second summit dealt with where the church is going. Through identifying the church’s sphere of influence, the church was able to see who they were currently reaching for Christ and those who were yet to be reached. This allowed the congregation to make changes in order to reach all people.
“We developed a strategy through structures and programs,” Palmer said. “The Upward programs came out of this summit, along with changes in our worship to a more contemporary style.”
Through the church’s new vision and strategies, First Baptist has seen new leadership emerge in every area of the church.
“As we’ve seen new people coming in I am excited about discipling new members and moving them into leadership positions by incorporating them into the body,” Palmer said. “I also hope they become excited in evangelism and missions.”
Eugene Tindall, associate pastor for students and families, also noticed the growth during the last year. The church now runs about 350 in worship.
“Our growth has been tremendous since we have relocated,” he said. “We have a record year with attendance in Sunday School and Wednesday night worship. The new building has allowed us to expand our ministry to try several events that we could never do because we were limited by space. The addition of a gym has been a great resource for our student ministry. We are now able to do lock-ins and after-game parties with multiple activities.”
Above all, both men are reminded that the best part of this new chapter in the history of First Neosho is Christ’s spirit moving in the lives of His people. Tindall has found evidence of this in his students.
“Not only do we have more students in attendance, we have seen several students accept Christ as their personal Savior which is the best part of the relocation process,” he reflected.