CHAPEL HILL — God has been stirring in the hearts of the members of Grove Hill Church in Chapel Hill.
Subsequently, the water in the swimming pool at pastor Ridley Barron’s house has been stirring, too.
Throughout the summer, a series of unique baptism services have been held in the Barrons’ pool, where church members and family members have lined the edges of the water to see the gentle dunk.
These gatherings have helped highlight the ongoing movement of God that is taking place at Grove Hill.
Thus far this year (through early August), the five-year-old church has celebrated 94 new members, 54 baptisms and 43 salvation
“We are truly excited and overwhelmed about how God has been working in our church,” Barron said. “It’s been quite a cool journey for us.”
The swimming-pool baptisms normally take place after Sunday morning worship (which includes three services) concludes at Grove Hill.
“It works out great for us because our house is less than a half mile from the church,” said Barron. “There is a large field out back, so there is plenty of parking. It is fairly simple for us to ‘relocate’ after our third service, and most of our people come to show their love and support.”
The swimming-pool baptisms started several years ago, but these gatherings have become more frequent this summer during the spiritual surge at Grove Hill.
“The church is experiencing genuine revival,” said Josh Franks, Harvest Field Team Leader for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. “It’s incredible to see such an outpouring of the Spirit in one of our churches. This is what it’s all about!
“What’s going on with Barron and Grove Hill is a tangible reminder that, even in a chaotic world, Jesus is on a mission to seek and save that which is lost,” Franks said.
Barron said the groundswell for the spiritual explosion had been taking place for some time.
“It’s not like our church wasn’t growing and God was not already working,” said Barron, noting that the previous year (2022) had seen 79 new members, 26 baptisms and 24 salvations.
Even so, it’s easy to see that this year has been especially fruitful for the young church. During one Sunday in July, the church celebrated the baptisms of 28 believers. The experience of seeing God move in such a way left Barron in complete awe.
“It is hard to put into words what that feels like as a pastor,” he said. “All of us — staff and members — were on cloud nine that whole week.”
The story gets even more amazing when this fact is added: The church was planning for “only” 12 baptisms that Sunday, but ended up with more than twice that number.
The movement continued the following Sunday when eight more baptisms were scheduled.
Prayer paved the way
The rising tide at Grove Hill started the same way that most spiritual movements start: With prayer.
Last fall, several members of the church felt called to start gathering on Saturday nights to pray.
Soon, the explosion began.
“It really is as simple as it sounds,” Barron said. “Recognizing the importance of prayer in all things as well as our need for God to make any of this successful, we decided to devote ourselves to regular prayer — with ‘regular’ being the key.
“Since our inception five years ago, we have had regular prayer times every Sunday morning before the message is given,” he said. “But (beyond that), we decided to prepare our hearts and the hearts of our people by asking God’s favor on our church and our gatherings. About five of us gathered for the first time last summer and we have continued this every Saturday evening since.”
Franks said he has no doubt that it was these gatherings that sparked the growth at Grove Hill.
“Prayer is the hand that moves the heart of God,” he said. “All throughout the Bible, whenever God’s people are faithful to humble themselves, repent, seek His face, and pray fervently, God shows up and shows out in mighty ways.”
Franks said he hopes Grove Hill can be an inspiration for other churches.
“I think what’s going on at Grove Hill is a call for all Tennessee Baptist churches to have a renewed commitment to pursue the person and power of God through prayer,” he said. “It’s not always easy. It requires persistence and diligence.
“Sometimes we may pray for months on end with no discernible answer,” Franks added, “but we can always come boldly before the throne of grace, knowing He hears our prayers, and is faithful to answer his children.”
From Kentucky to Chapel Hill
The on-going “revival” atmosphere at Grove Hill has taken on the same feel as the continuous, weeks-long gatherings that took place at Asbury College in Kentucky. By no small coincidence, the two events are intertwined.
Shortly after the revival first broke out at Asbury last spring, Barron and Kyle Hess, the student pastor at Grove Hill, made the journey to Kentucky to see it for themselves.
“We went primarily out of curiosity,” Barron said. “We wanted to test what was going on there at Asbury to see what the source of this event was all about.”
It proved to be an amazing experience for the two men — and the members at Grove Hill were eager to hear about it. The following Sunday, Barron briefly shared with the congregation what he had seen in Kentucky.
Then something else happened.
“As I returned to my seat for the next portion of our worship, I sensed God saying to me, ‘That’s not all. There is more I want you to say,’” said Barron.
“I went to the altar myself as the praise team led our worship and decided I would share a little more before the message. We never made it to the message that day.”
Instead, Barron felt led to ask others to speak about what was on their hearts that morning.
This turned into an eight-hour long worship service filled with prayer, confession, worship, repentance, encouragement and accountability.
“It was like nothing I had ever experienced,” said Barron.
In addition to the recent wave of baptisms, the momentum at Grove Hill has included the church’s largest-ever Easter service, a joyful celebration of Grove Hill’s fifth anniversary, the most well-attended VBS in the church’s history and substantial growth in attendance overall.
Barron said these life-changing, eternity-impacting events have given him a fresh perspective as a pastor.
“I’ve been doing ministry for 38 years now,” Barron said. “I’ve had incredible highs and some very low moments in my time. I am aware of what it feels like to preach your heart out week after week and to see no response, no repentance, no commitment from the people you care for. That drains you physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. I think those lows are what make moments like (the Sunday of 28 baptisms) such a powerful experience.”
For Barron and other pastors, the joy of seeing people come to know the Lord is the biggest motivation of all to “keep chopping wood” — even on the difficult days. It brings renewed focus and renewed energy, he said.
“It is a humble reminder that you play a small role in the economy of God’s plan of salvation,” he said. “You lay yourself out there as a pastor a hundred times, but if it is not done under the power of the Holy Spirit, you get little or nothing in return. I’d rather spend one day watching 28 people give their life a new start with Christ than a 1,000 without that blessing.”
Barron said there can be feelings of “bittersweet” amid the joyfulness of a new salvation.
“It’s a strange feeling because, even as you celebrate the victory of each individual life change, you are struck by the urgency that there are thousands more like them who need to know,” he said.
To that end, Barron hopes that the swimming pool in his backyard gets put to plenty of use in the coming years. “I’m praying that there comes a day that we have baptisms in our swimming pool every Sunday all summer long.” B&R