"To reach people no one else is reaching you have to do things no one else is doing." This mantra has been quoted over and over by church planters and is being lived out by Darrin Miller and the members of Riverwoods Baptist Church in Benton and Murray, Ky.
Riverwoods Church was a 2018 KBC Baptism Milestones Award recipient since they baptized 129 people in one year having begun the year with 185 people in attendance. Intentional evangelism runs through the heart of this pastor and as a result it is deeply embedded in the culture of the churches he has planted.
One of the primary ways Riverwoods reaches people is through their Celebrate Recovery ministry. Celebrate Recovery is a Christian twelve-step program that began as a ministry of Saddleback Church in California under the leadership of John Baker and pastor Rick Warren. Baker had found help dealing with his own struggle with alcohol through Alcoholics Anonymous. He wanted to develop a recovery ministry that was specifically Christian in its approach and Celebrate Recovery was born. For Riverwoods, Celebrate Recovery is one of the key outreach arms of their church. They reach many people who come to them initially to find help dealing with their addictions and in the process realize that Jesus is the one they really need.
One man reached through Riverwoods recovery program is Randy McDaniel. He was ministered to through Riverwoods and then went on to be involved in the ministry.
Darrin said, "Randy is naturally gifted to talk to people about the gospel. Many of the people who were baptized through Celebrate Recovery were witnessed to by Randy."
Randy and his wife recently relocated to Pineville, Ky., where he is now a student at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College. He is part of Clear Creek's 3 + 1 Church Planter Initiative where he will receive three years of Bible College training and the fourth year will be spent working alongside a Kentucky Baptist church planter as he makes plans to plant a church himself one day.
I recently asked Darrin how he keeps the Riverwoods congregations motivated toward evangelism. This question is relevant because pastors understand that a church will drift into fellowship but will drift away from evangelism. For a church to be evangelistic there must be a pastor who continues to lead in that direction.
Darrin said he challenges them with a baptism goal for each year, he trains the members in personal evangelism at least annually, and before the services he meets with the volunteers to remind them of their mission of reaching far from God people with the gospel. In addition to these practices they also saturate their services in prayer.
"They pray over every seat in the auditorium," Darrin said, adding, "We do multiple events to reach out to people in the community."
One of the ways Darrin makes evangelism part of the church culture is in the way they counsel those who are responding to the gospel and receiving baptism. He doesn't do the counseling himself but instead has trained members to talk with those who respond during the invitation. Sharing in this ministry allows church members to lead someone to the Lord. Letting others be involved in the soul-winning work of the church is a priority for Darrin because, as he said, "it is contagious when you lead someone to the Lord." Some of their members have also been authorized by the church to baptize those who have come to faith furthering involving them in the evangelism process and more deeply cementing the culture of evangelism into the life of the congregation.
I asked what challenges he faces in leading the church to be evangelistic. He said, "Getting people to do what they know they should do because it's not natural, there are spiritual influences at work. People are scared and helping them get past their fears and witness is the challenge. Getting them past the fear," Darrin said, is the biggest challenge.
Pastor Darrin Miller is just one of the 2,400 Kentucky Baptist pastors and church planters who are faithfully doing the work of evangelism to reach Kentucky for Christ. With a state population of more than four million people, the vast majority of which are not in any church anywhere on Sunday morning, we have a big job to do and need all hands on deck to do it. God is using all of us together to reach Kentucky and the world for Christ. We truly are better together.