SPRINGFIELD – First Baptist Church here has seen evidence of significant growth over the past several months. Before that, the leadership, staff and laypeople felt the church was faced with the typical “downtown church” syndrome: more funerals than baptisms, more expenses than income, the median age of members creeping up higher and higher, and a feeling of helplessness on the part of many people.
In May 2010, Pastor Michael Overton called on the staff to join him in a time of fasting and prayer based on Nehemiah 1:4. In August, the deacons challenged the church to set aside one day for fasting and prayer each week for the seven weeks prior to the Oct. 17 revival. The presentation of this idea was low key. The people were not asked to sign up to become involved, just encouraged to do it. The pastor didn’t ask for a show of hands on Wednesday night to find out how many planned to participate.
Starting then and continuing to the present, the church has seen God’s hand at work. Most weeks there have been professions of faith, baptisms, and new members joining by letter including some younger families with children. From October 2010 through May 2011, there have been 10 professions of faith resulting in 8 baptisms, 25 additions by letter, and another 7 joining by statement.
In July 2009, a strategy committee was formed and asked to first consider if the church should remain where it was or plan to relocate. The committee quickly felt the Lord leading the church to remain, and on Nov. 7, they recommended plans for “re-inventing” the church’s image in the community. This included a call for a capital campaign to raise $1.25 million to make some major repairs to the facilities and make other changes in the facilities to make them more attractive to the downtown community.
In April, the pastor preached from Nehemiah, with the themes of “Remember,” “Rebuild,” “Renew,” and “Rejoice.” On May 8, the results of the campaign were announced with a total of $1,396,050 pledged. Since that time, the total pledges have risen to $1,409,482 as of May 23. More than $350,000 has already been received as church members realized the need to move more rapidly with the projects.
During this time, three other significant opportunities came to the church. The Lighthouse Ministries asked the church to join them in a pre-school day care program. It involved no expense to the church, and after five years the entire program would belong to the church. The second opportunity was to join with Crescendo Music Academy to provide low-cost music lessons for people in the neighborhood. Again, this was to be developed at no cost to the church. Both of these ministries have been implemented with over 40 children enrolled in the pre-school program. Third, the church was asked to host a Good News Club at a nearby elementary school.
“We have seen the hand of God so clearly leading and working in and through our church,” Overton said. “It is exciting to watch as God blesses with new ministries and new families. I truly believe this has been in response to our church humbling themselves through a season of prayer and fasting that God also placed upon our hearts to do.”