STRAWBERRY PLAINS — Matt Giles, pastor of Lyons Creek Baptist Church here, can affirm what a good transitional pastor can do for a transitioning church.
Seven years ago, Giles came to Lyons Creek, his first pastorate, after serving as youth pastor at Broadway Baptist Church in Maryville for five years.
When he arrived, longtime Knoxville pastor and former Tennessee Baptist Convention president Jim McCluskey was leaving after serving as a transitional interim pastor.
“He did a great job in preparing the church,” Giles recalled. “They were ready to engage in a great work for the Lord.”
Giles was called to the church already knowing that it needed to be “revitalized.” He acknowledged the church had some division in the past, attendance had declined, giving had decreased, and the church had building debt.
“They were in a survival mentality. We need to get back to having a missional mentality,” he said.
After Giles arrived, the church formed a Vision Task Force which focused on two questions: (1) What do we do well to serve the community and to communicate the gospel? and (2) What can we do better?
Coupled with that, the church held numerous prayer sessions and open forums, Giles said.
“We determined that we needed to make changes to do a better job of reaching out to the community,” he said.
Giles acknowledged that change was not easy for the 157-year-old congregation.
“It took a lot of adjustment and effort. We all had to step out of our comfort zones,” Giles said.
One of the first things the church did was to “raise the bar of membership,” Giles said.
“We let the church know that we expected people who were members to be disciple makers and to share the gospel.”
Classes were offered for members on Sunday nights and a class for others who wanted to learn more about Lyons Creek was held at Giles’ home on Monday nights.
Over time the church shifted its Sunday night schedule to have off campus groups in the fall and spring.
In the last year or so the church has openly embraced the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s 1-5-1 Harvest Plants initiative.
Harvest Plants are off campus efforts (outside the walls of the church) geared toward people who don’t know Christ as their Savior for the purpose of sharing the gospel, discipling the people, and starting churches.
Lyons Creek began seven of those 1-5-1 groups last fall, he said.
In addition the church has intensified efforts to reach out to the community. “Our Community Fall Festival draws around 2,000 people” Giles estimated, adding that the turnout is good for a community of 5,000 people in east Knox County.
Lyons Creek also works with the new elementary school in the community and even gave the school money to help build its playground.
The church also has helped plant churches in the Dominican Republic and also works with International Mission Board personnel in Cluj, Romania.
“God has really blessed us,” Giles observed. He noted attendance has increased 83 percent over the past seven years.
“Members of Lyons Creek had reached the point where they knew they needed to do more to reach the community,” Giles said.
“They were ready to say, ‘The church is not for us. It is for the Lord and His mission.’ ”
A church must realize that it does not exist for itself, Giles observed.
“When what belongs to God gets placed back in His hands, He rejuvenates it and brings it back to life,” Giles added.
He also noted that when a church gets focused “on the things God calls them to do, He provides the resources to make it happen.
“God has done a great work here.”
Lyons Creek members are now eager to assist other congregations that are in need of church revitalization. “We have laity who are willing to help,” Giles said.
“We are excited and want to help other churches in similar situations to become a vital part of their communities,” the pastor added.
After seven years at the church Giles noted that “it’s a blessing to be part of this church.
“Good things are happening all the time.”