HAWK POINT – A declining congregation of less than a dozen members in a small, rural community in eastern Missouri faced a terrible option a year ago – should it close the church? That church, Hawk Point Baptist (HPBC), answered with a bold step of faith to continue its 150-year-old evangelistic mission in a new way.
The Hawk Point community has less than 700 souls. It’s barely one-third of a square mile in area. There are two gas stations, a bank branch, and a handful of small businesses.
However, as the suburban St. Louis population moves northwestward from St. Charles County, Hawk Point sits in the path of growth west of Troy and north of Warrenton. New subdivisions already dot the surrounding farmlands.
Hawk Point Baptist, renamed Crossroads Church last spring, sits in the middle of the community and in the path of the population growth. It was experiencing a 20-year decline due to loss of members, according to Twin Rivers Baptist Association (TRBA) Director of Missions Bob Feeler, and was struggling in its ministry.
The church’s then transitional pastor, Fred Barker, says a core of 7-10 believers continued to meet while it contemplated the church’s future.
He arrived in June 2020 to fill the church’s pulpit, which had not had a permanent pastor for almost two years. In November, he became the church’s transitional pastor “to lead the church in exploring options that would not lead to closing the doors to their witness.”
Barker approached Feeler, who had just started his new role at TRBA.
“It is important that the gospel reach the small towns and rural places as well as the large cities,” Feeler says. “I knew that (First Baptist Church of O’Fallon) was one of the leading mission-minded churches in our association.” He contacted Mike Atherton, senior pastor of FBC O’Fallon (FBCO).
“We then set up a meeting with the Hawk Point church,” Feeler says. “From that conversation (the churches) moved to a time when both churches agreed to the merger.”
Though legally the result is a merger of all assets of HPBC into FBCO, party representatives use the term ‘ministry adoption’ because, as Feeler says, “these two sister churches are now one together.”
FBCO and O’Fallon are quite different from HPBC and Hawk Point. FBCO runs about 650 in three services, has multiple ministries, includes a Christian academy, and sits in the middle of suburban St. Charles County. O’Fallon is a city of around 90,000.
The church campuses sit 30-35 miles apart.
“We spent about 5 to 6 months working, talking, praying, and considering what this partnership would look like before both churches affirmed the adoption in April of 2021,” says Atherton.
Numerous issues needed to be resolved, including the mission of the combined church, the smaller congregation’s needs and whether FBCO could supply them, how to staff the rural church, whether its ministry would close or continue during a transition, church governance, building and land assets, and budgetary and legal matters.
Barker says for the rural congregation, there was only one issue: “Were we willing to do whatever it took to make sure there was a continuing evangelistic witness in Hawk Point? The answer was yes.”
He adds, “This required we adopt a mindset of God’s ownership of all resources involved and complete surrender to His divine direction. The church at Hawk Point demonstrated great faith in hope for the future in proceeding with this adoption.”
“FBCO brought a willingness to take on a new missional challenge,” Atherton says. He says the congregation agreed to invest leadership, ministry, and finances in Hawk Point.
Volunteers from O’Fallon have travelled to the Hawk Point site to do interior painting and grounds maintenance, as well as serve lunch and provide children’s activities at the congregation’s relaunch on Sept. 19. Funds were budgeted for building repairs and upgrades.
“We are essentially one church that meets in two locations,” Atherton says. “Though there are some areas of autonomy, for the most part we function as one: one mission, one vision, one staff governed collectively.”
He credits the Crossroads congregation for the ease of transition. They “brought a heart and love for the people of Hawk Point. They brought a willingness to follow God into an uncharted territory. They brought a humility that allowed them to be engrafted into a much larger church. They have brought a willingness to trust their new leaders and work hard to develop a new ministry philosophy.”
Barker says, “It was especially attractive that FBCO leadership understood our community setting and were sensitive to not simply have our ministry copy their ministry.”
During the adoption process, HPBC was renamed Crossroads Church.
“The church sits literally at the crossroads of town and spiritually at a crossroads within the ministry history of Hawk Point,” Atherton says.
Barker joined the FBCO staff and serves as campus pastor at Crossroads, which has given continuity to the transition as the combined church navigates issues related to campuses separated by a 40-minute drive.
Atherton says, “We are learning how to best operate two distant campuses. FBCO staff is starting to regularly think how we cannot just lead FBCO, but also Crossroads.” He now has some office hours in Hawk Point. An outreach program has begun in the community. FBCO ministers provide leadership in Crossroads activities.
“For Crossroads, the benefit is the two locations/one church concept,” Barker says.
“While I serve locally as a campus pastor, the entire staff works for both locations. The challenges are easily overcome in this team approach.”
“As we grow in the process we have seen the power of partnership and how working together has energized our local gathering,” he says.
The association’s Feeler says he hopes other congregations will join in church revitalization. “We look for partner churches to adopt a struggling church and support it back to health.”