80-year-old pastor proves age is not a factor in reaching younger families
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
SPRINGFIELD – The numbers may not reflect it, but Eastland Heights Baptist Church in Springfield is truly being revitalized, says Pastor Jerry Heflin.
And, what’s more, the church is being revitalized by an 80-year-old pastor who has a knack for connecting with people of all ages.
After Heflin retired in 2006 as associate pastor of First Baptist Church, Goodlettsville, he became pastor at Eastland Heights the following year.
The church was located in a changing neighborhood and was comprised primarily of older adults, Heflin said. He noted that during his first year there, the church saw 12 high school seniors graduate that year. Unfortunately, most of them left for college or jobs and only one remains today. That left a dearth of younger people in the church, he said.
“Our folks were discouraged and not sure of the future,” Heflin recalled.
Heflin encouraged the few younger adults who were left to invite their friends to attend. Slowly but surely the number of younger families began to increase. The church now has about 13 young couples with 20 children who attend regularly, the pastor said.
“It was a slow outreach, but it was a good outreach,” he reflected.
As for Heflin, serving the church has been an easy transition for the most part. “I tend to relate to people of all ages,” he said. His one struggle? “I had to learn to text,” he laughed, noting that his younger adults told him they very seldom checked e-mails.
Heflin is beloved by all ages in the congregation. Church member Sharon Keay observed that Heflin meets the needs and reaches out to members of all ages. She also noted that Heflin “leads by example how a man should be the leader of a home,” adding that he also practices what he preaches.
Karen Hamill, another member, observed that Heflin does “not ask anyone to do something that he wouldn’t do” and that he encourages “everyone to be the hands and feet of Jesus, not just pew sitters.”
Heflin noted that when he went to Eastland Heights, he did not have a five-point plan on how to change the church. “I went to love the people and to pastor a struggling church.”
Heflin observed the attendance has not changed much over the past nine years even with the influx of young families. The church averages around 50 in Sunday School and 70 in preaching. “We’ve had as much outflow as inflow,” he said, attributing most of the “outflow” to deaths of older members.
Though the numbers are about the same, the future is much brighter because of the younger families, Heflin said. “We’re not on fire, but there is some smoke,” he laughed.
Not only are younger families attending, but they are getting involved in leadership roles, Heflin said. “We’ve had some young adult leadership emerge who blow me away,” he observed. “I just try to turn them loose.”
Heflin is convinced the church has been revitalized. “It may not show on the outside, but inside it does.”
Robert Tyson, director of missions for Robertson County Baptist Association (of which Eastland Heights is a member), has witnessed the revitalization of the church.
“The way brother Jerry leads and serves Eastland Heights makes me smile,” Tyson shared.
“He represents both the character and leadership style that gives ministers a positive reputation in the church and its community. He proves age is not the barrier to relating to young folks.
“He and Eastland Heights illustrate that church revitalization is not always found in the numbers. It is found in the people the church is reaching for Christ,” Tyson said.