Selmer congregation gives property, buildings to sister church after unanimous vote
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
SELMER — Though only 25 years old, Central Baptist Church in Selmer had fallen on hard times in recent years.
Attendance had dwindled to less than 10 people and the church knew two years ago that something had to change for the church to survive, said pastor Stephen Davison. The members consulted with the local association and representatives from the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board about church revitalization.
About seven months ago, as attendance dwindled to less than 20 people, it became apparent that the best solution for Central was to merge with another church by giving its property to a sister church in Shiloh Baptist Association. “We prayed for a church to partner with us,” Davison recalled.
Along came First Baptist Church, Selmer, which was already pursuing a multi-campus approach to its ministry, according to pastor Joey Johnson.
“They asked us to take their property and use it for the kingdom,” Johnson said.
Both congregations voted unanimously for the plan which gives First Baptist Church five acres of land and two buildings. “If you were going to build a new church in McNairy County, that is where you would build it,” Johnson said.
Immediate plans call for First Baptist to use it for activities and events for both the church and the community, but it could be a campus site in the future or potentially a new church plant, he added.
Johnson is grateful for the desire of the remaining Central Baptist members to see their church continue to be used for ministry. “It was a courageous step for them to take,” he said.
The Selmer pastor observed that while similar things happen in other parts of the state, it’s not that common in rural West Tennessee.
“It’s a new paradigm. Hopefully this will become a model for other churches that are struggling,” Johnson said.
“It’s been a remarkable situation,” he continued. Accepting the Central property was not something the church planned or had a strategy for, Johnson explained. “It was a God thing.”
Davison, who will serve on First Baptist’s staff for three months as he transitions into a new ministry role, said he is excited that First Baptist accepted the gift. “They have a heart for the community and we felt they would be a good partner,” Davison said of First Baptist.
“It became clear through the process that this was the right way to go. God took care of everything every step of the way,” Davison affirmed.
Central held its final service on May 19. Johnson and other members of First Baptist attended.
Davison acknowledged Central members who remained, especially those with deep roots to the church, had mixed emotions, but they were excited that the church will continue to be used for God’s ministry.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about whose name is on the church sign. It’s about the name of Jesus Christ,” he affirmed.
Russ Wilkins, director of missions for Shiloh Baptist Association, observed that occasionally “something seems counterproductive or even like a loss, but it becomes a victory. The cross would be a great example.”
He noted the closing of Central Baptist falls into that category. “Recently, Central Baptist Church conducted its last service after many years of wonderful ministry in that location. That is a loss in many ways but the people of Central believe the greater victory is to see new life in that location.”
Wilkins said one member told him, “I don’t care what name is on the building, we just want to see people coming to Jesus.”
“What a generous spirit the people of Central have shown,” Wilkins said.
“We are praying for a healthy model of what can be done to keep churches and ministries in neighborhoods and communities.”