SOMERSET—On a crisp day in February, Pastor Jamie Taylor walked into the office of Lake Cumberland Baptist Association. Executive Director Tommy Floyd immediately noticed the 38-year-old pastor was apprehensive.
Pastor Jamie said, "I've come to talk to you about something, and you're going to think I've lost my mind." Floyd assured him that it would be okay regardless of the topic, and asked him to share his heart.
As Taylor did that, Floyd was both relieved and thrilled.
He was relieved because he first wondered if Taylor was there to discuss a conflict at church. When the pastor began to share his heart, Floyd was elated with the proposal.
Taylor currently pastors Faith-United Baptist Church in Somerset. In his tenure, he has led the church through significant changes. The congregation that once occupied the church facilities essentially died.
When he started as pastor in 2013, 15 people attended the first worship service. Along with renaming the congregation, he has led them to move from being an independent church to cooperating with the local association and Kentucky Baptist Convention and to be outreach oriented. They now average 65 in Sunday morning worship.
Buena Vista Baptist Church is another Somerset church that was once a vibrant congregation. In 2000, its Sunday morning worship average was 400. On last year's Annual Church Profile, it reported 35. When the most recent pastor resigned in January, the church became very disillusioned and declined even more.
Hearing about Buena Vista's struggles reminded Taylor of his own.
"I looked at churches that were struggling in the same community and wondered why they couldn't come together.
Why don't they bring together their resources and try to reach their area for the Lord?" He felt God was leading him to pursue merging Faith-United with Buena Vista. That is what he shared with Floyd on that day in February.
Floyd was aware of a project KBC's regional consultants completed in 2017—For the Kingdom's Sake; Discovering God's Preferred Future for Your Church. The resource was developed for churches on the edge of closing and healthy churches that could come alongside them. It helps church leaders think through options—such as becoming a legacy church, restarting and merging.
KBC consultants traveled throughout Kentucky interviewing leaders and studying churches that had experienced doing something new for the sake of the kingdom in their communities. The group's labor resulted in a small book with accompanying videos.
Floyd and I began working with Pastor Jamie and both churches. We used the material in For the Kingdom's Sake to inform and inspire both groups. We presented a timeline with action steps, one of which was to come together for a joint Sunday morning worship service and conduct a ministry project together to help determine compatibility.
The congregations met for a joint service on May 5. The churches, which were averaging 65 and 35 independently, had 133 in worship that morning.
A combined choir helped lead worship and one person was baptized! They enjoyed a fellowship meal after the service. Both congregations were so moved by their experience that they have continued to worship together each Sunday since May 26. They even did Vacation Bible School together.
On June 16, demonstrating incredible unity, the congregations voted overwhelmingly to formally proceed with the merger conversation.
Both congregations have elected workgroups that Floyd and I have trained. Those groups are now working collaboratively to develop a formal plan and articles of merger. When those documents are complete, the congregations will officially vote on completing the merger.
The most difficult obstacle for both congregations is laying aside their current names and adopting a new one. Carolyn Mayes, along with her parents, was a charter member of Buena Vista.
In fact, her father recommended the church's name.
"If God is more glorified and more people are reached by both churches closing and coming together as a new start with a new name," Mayes said, "that's what I want."
"I hope this potential merger serves as a catalyst for congregations in our area who need to consider similar options," said Floyd. Taylor asks Kentucky Baptists to pray the community is reached and God is glorified through this process.
He also asks people to, "pray that struggling churches around Kentucky would see through this effort that there is hope."
This is the first in a two-part story by Alan Dodson, south regional consultant for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.