My wife and I came to Oakridge Bible Church (later changed to Grace Reformed Church) in October of 2009. We knew it would be an up hill battle from the start. The church had been plagued with many things. Their reputation was shot in the community, they had been through several splits, and they had been without a pastor for almost seven years. Every time I tell this story I get the same response and it usually goes something like this, “How in the world are the doors still open?”.
It was the same response I had myself. Many people discouraged us from taking the church to begin with but we still felt that it was where God wanted us. We were at peace with it even knowing the issues. And so we came (we actually turned down a much larger church that approached me to candidate as their pastor to take this one).
If I could describe the church when we came, I’d say it was your typical independent fundamental baptist church (but without the translation issues).
We tried many things, hopefully this story can be of some encouragement to others trying to replant an existing church. At first I personally went door to door to visit with people in the community and virtually every door I knocked on I was met with the same response “I’m not going there because this or that happened”. It didn’t matter if it happened 20 years ago! I soon realized that it was going to be a monumental undertaking to try to mend the relationship in the community. The longer we stayed and ministered and shepherded the more the community got to know us. We even moved closer to the church to be in the community in which we served. We truly do love the community and the people of the church. And in defense of the church, many of the issues that plagued it in the past were no longer issues. (some were, but most were not) I’ll not dive into detail here.
We tried different forms of outreach, but all seemed to be met with resistance in the community. The church never grew. (spiritually we were growing leaps and bounds but the numbers just were not there to sustain it financially).
We eventually came to a point in the road where we knew to really sure the church up and right the ship drastic things needed to take place. We began by suring up the doctrinal statement. And then by starting a fresh and changing the name of the church to better reflect who we were and our doctrinal position. All of this was voted for almost unanimously, except for the name change where only two did not want it. So we moved forward, held numerous question and answers, took our time, encouraged members to speak to the elders if there were concerns or questions, and there were virtually none. Some questions, but no real big concerns. So we finally brought the changes, (doctrinal, and church government, and the name change) to the floor for a vote. It passed with zero resistance so the elders figured it was a change people felt they wanted, after all, they voted for it right? Wrong. After the vote people started leaving in droves. I tried my best to meet and talk to find out why, and people just did not want to talk. We soon began to realize there were other things holding the church together, that were not the Word of God. The changes just exposed it.
Long story short, enough people had left to the point where financially it just wasn’t sustainable any longer. We made the decision to close up the church and sell it and donate the money to like minded organizations to continue the ministry.
The real kicker…. not one single person that left, left over a doctrinal issue. It still baffles us to this day. So, if you are reading this and you happen to be in a similar situation, know that sometimes God just closes doors (and sometimes churches) and there isn’t anything you can do no matter how hard you try. Our God is great, and he is sovereign over every molecule in the universe. These things don’t slip His attention and they don’t take Him by surprise. Looking back, I’ve gone over this a thousand times wondering if I would change anything. The answer is always the same, no, I would not. If I had to do all over again, I’d do the exact same thing. A shepherd’s job is to care for the flock, and when things are a miss it is his job to right the ship. We knew it had the possibility of ending this way and we were optimistic but we still would have done it the same if we could do it over.
IF you are reading this and you were looking for a 1689 reformed baptist church, please don’t hesitate to contact me. If there is enough interest, with God’s leading we can plant a new church.