On Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019 the atmosphere of the room was mingled with excitement and apprehension. Two Somerset congregations — Buena Vista and Faith-United — had voted on officially merging to create a new church.
The two had been worshiping together on Sunday mornings for nearly two months. The "what-if" questions laid heavily on minds. However, when the vote count was announced, anxiety quickly melted into exhilaration. The congregations, like Peter in the New Testament, stepped out of the comforts of familiarity and onto the sea of the unknown by faith. They casted an overwhelmingly positive 93 percent vote to create the new Cornerstone Baptist Church. Some would say for two churches to lay aside names, leadership and programs to form a new congregation is miraculous. Undoubtedly, Cornerstone formed through a mighty work of God. Pastor Jamie Taylor pursued it because he was prompted by the Lord. Lake Cumberland Association leader Tommy Floyd and I quickly joined him in prayer as we heard his vision. The lay leadership, workgroups and members from both congregations saturated the efforts in prayer. When God's people pray, great things happen. As scripture states in James 5:16, "The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect" (CSB).
Adding to the prayer efforts, Taylor and workgroups from both congregations labored many hours. An old saying attributed to Saint Augustine states, "Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you." Fervent prayer and hard work definitely joined hands in this effort. Among the many tasks that had to be accomplished leading up to the vote were working through legal issues, developing a new constitution and bylaws, choosing a name and putting together a leadership structure. Under Taylor's devoted, steady leadership, the tasks were accomplished, and a formal plan was developed. The plan included articles of merger that clearly indicated how the new church would function and use merged resources when they launched.
Taylor points out that the KBC resource, For the Kingdom's Sake, blessed and guided the effort. He said that the book is "full of great insights" and is thankful for it.
For the Kingdom's Sake is a simple five-chapter book with two appendices. It was written by KBC's regional consultant group in 2017. In the first chapter, I present the biblical foundations that are important to guide a church that is considering making a major change such as merging with another congregation.
Chapter 2 was written by Rick Howerton, and it addresses the potential for kingdom impact available to churches considering different forms. He states, "One of the most important goals of every church is to impact God's kingdom. That is, to establish the kingdom of God in the location where the church exists and to establish the kingdom of God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of every believer."
Larry Purcell deals with emotional barriers in chapter 3. He points out that when churches make decisions such as merging, there are emotional implications that should not be overlooked. "Significant decisions ask us not only to be aware of emotional barriers, but to account for them as we navigate God's will and direction for the future of our church buildings and ministry." He provides a helpful guide for navigating emotional barriers.
The church merger, legacy church, restart, multi-site, multi-use and sale of property and donation kingdom works are options explored by Alan Witham in chapter 4. He presents these options in detail and admonishes the reader to "prayerfully consider which of these options may be God's plan for you."
In chapter 5, Rob Patterson exhibits how to turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones when churches consider options regarding their futures. He notes that while there are blockades to be navigated around, "compelling stories of successful mergers, replants or legacy churches are inspiring an ever-increasing number of churches to courageously take the risk for the sake of significant kingdom growth."
Appendix 1 includes a case study of a church that gave its facilities as a legacy and a case study of two churches that successfully merged. In the second appendix, Paul Badgett explains how to deal with the legal issues inherent in such changes.
Pastor Jamie Taylor and his congregation expressed their gratitude for the help and resources of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Taylor urges churches across the commonwealth to use resources such available to them such as For the Kingdom's Sake.
On Sunday, Sept. 15, the newly-formed Cornerstone Baptist Church enjoyed a wonderful afternoon service of celebration. The service included video greetings from myself and Todd Gray, KBC executive director-treasurer; remarks from associational leader Tommy Floyd and a timely sermon from Western Recorder interim managing editor Chip Hutcheson. This new church had much to celebrate. Since coming together it has conducted VBS, a weekday workers' lunch open to workers in Somerset and a door-hanger blitz throughout the city. God has blessed the church to witness three baptisms and six other membership additions. To God be the glory, great things He has done!
Alan Dodson is regional consultant, South Region, for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.