By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
CHAPEL HILL — Chapel Hill Community Baptist Church was a congregation seeking its identity and without a pastor. The Church at College Grove was a new church plant with a pastor looking for a place to meet.
The two congregations came together in a way that only God could orchestrate.
Ridley Barron, pastor of the College Grove church plant, was at the offices of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board in March for a meeting when he met Barbara Powers, a member of Chapel Hill and a staff member with the TBMB.
She learned of the church’s need for a location and told him about Chapel Hill Community Baptist.
Though Chapel Hill was about nine miles from College Grove, Barron thought it could work and he was interested in possibly partnering with an existing congregation. “Their church was looking to rekindle a fire,” he recalled.
After meeting with Steve Holt, TBMB staff member who was serving as interim pastor at Chapel Hill, leadership from both churches began discussing a possible merger at some point.
Barron told the Chapel Hill members he would be willing to be their pastor if he “could bring between 50-60 of his best friends with him,” he laughed.
On May 20, Chapel Hill Community Baptist voted to take on a new identity and a new name — Grove Hill Church.
Chapel Hill had a rented facility where they were already meeting plus five acres they had already bought and paid for that could be used for future expansion, Barron noted. “We (The Church at College Grove) brought leadership, new energy, young families and workers.”
Barron said the move to merge was made in conjunction with both their “mother” church (The Church at Station Hill in Spring Hill) and their “grandmother” church (Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood).
It was a dramatic shift from the new church plant’s original plan, Barron acknowledged. He admitted they considered the “dangers” of merging two congregations. But when all was said and done, everyone believed “God was up to something” and that He rearranged their original plans.
Pastor Jay Strother of The Church at Station Hill said the merger of the two congregations was “a God thing.”
He noted the new congregation still accomplishes the mother church’s goal of “planting a church where there is a growing need for a gospel presence.” The merger is a “sign that God goes in front of you,” Strother continued. “We could not have manufactured the way this has come about,” he added.
The two churches came together in a “relaunch” service on Aug. 12 under a tent on the property originally owned by Chapel Hill Community Baptist with 171 people in attendance.
And, after meeting together since May, Barron has yet to spot any tension caused by the merger. “Both congregations were praying very hard (about the decision),” he said.
The churches are blending well, he said.
In just a few weeks since the relaunch, the church has seen some “victories” including people accepting Christ and coming forward for baptism and a person who had been considering a divorce, but saw the Grove Hill sign and tent and stopped for the service. He is now considering counseling to reunite with his family.
In a post to the church family, Barron reminded them, “God is up to something good, which means Satan is mad. We must be in constant prayer for each other as we step boldly into the darkness.”
Barbara Powers is excited about what has transpired with the Chapel Hill church since May.
“It’s been like a breath of fresh air,” she observed. “God has breathed an air of encouragement that we still matter and that He is still on our side,” Powers said.
She noted the congregation’s attendance had declined to about 58 members and the church was not reaching new people in the community.
“We were ministering to our own and we were so tired and overworked,” she recalled.
Powers credited Holt with setting the church on a path to consider a possible merger. The church studied Henry Blackaby’s “Flickering Lamps” in Sunday School and prayed for God to show them what He wanted, she added.
Powers said the move had to be “from God. There was nothing we could have done.”
Holt observed that Chapel Hill Community Baptist Church had spent several months praying and seeking God’s direction about the future of the church.
“Many of the leadership believed the church needed a full-vocational pastor in order to effectively reach their community, but knew their church wasn’t able to do that with their financial situation at the time.
However, God knew that He was ordering circumstances in a way to bring the College Grove group and Chapel Hill together and the way He did it was totally God!”
Holt said the merger represents “just one more way that churches can become more effective and healthy. We are seeing these kinds of mergers pop up all over the state.
“I am excited for the Chapel Hill and College Grove communities as this new fellowship continues to reach out with the gospel and minister to the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of those communities,” Holt added.
— The TBMB Church Revitalization Team is always happy to talk with any church leader that wants to learn more about ways to help their church be more effective. Contact Steve Holt at firstname.lastname@example.org.