By Courtney Swaw
Summer Intern, Linden Valley
LINDEN — As Bryan Bratcher was attending his first IMPACT camp three years ago, he wondered, “What if there was a church in our community that was committed to biblical truth that had this kind of culture?”
In 2014 Bratcher attended IMPACT camp (his first ever youth camp) at Linden Valley as the youth pastor of Stones River Baptist Church, Smyrna. He was 31 years old at the time.
“I’d never been to a youth camp before in my entire life. I didn’t even know what youth camp looked like. I would have been the kid they would have thrown out of youth camp if I would have come,” recalled Bratcher, now pastor of Christ Community Church in Smyrna.
Bratcher’s worship experiences through IMPACT camp that year encouraged him to start a new church (Christ Community) with a worship style that resembled what he had experienced through camp worship. His worship experiences prior to camp had been very traditional Baptist worship services.
“When the worship started, I was like, ‘Wow!’ I had heard of worship happening like that, and I had heard about that type of experience where everyone was just free and really worshiping and not worried at all about what anyone thought. It was amazing,” Bratcher said.
Bratcher explained IMPACT camp was the first time he had ever lost himself in worship.
“The first night, I kind of just sat there and was just stunned and just observed, more observing than participating,” Bratcher recollected. “The second night, I just couldn’t help myself. I lost myself in worship.”
He noticed his wife, Jessy, losing herself in worship, also.
“I’m looking at my wife, and I’m like I’ve never seen her worship like this, and it just made me cry. It was amazing,” Bratcher said.
Bratcher knew in that moment that God was calling him to start a church like IMPACT camp, but he didn’t want to heed to God’s call because he didn’t want to leave his church. He loved being the youth pastor at Stones River Baptist.
Upon returning home from camp, Bratcher and Stones River Baptist Church sponsored a youth rally called, “The Unashamed Revolution.” Jeff Williamson, IMPACT camp coordinator, and his wife Mary attended the event to support Bratcher.
“Jeff and his wife Mary came all the way from Memphis to Smyrna to support us because they knew that we wanted to go back and make an impact in our community, and ‘The Unashamed Revolution’ was our way of trying,” Bratcher said.
Bratcher took his youth group to IMPACT camp the following year and once again felt God was calling him to plant a new church.
He knew God was leading him to start a new congregation so he had been preparing his students, Bratcher said, acknowledging that he struggled because he did not want to stop working with the youth at Stones River.
Bratcher said he felt God telling him, “Don’t worry! You’ll be back here, and you’ll see why I’ve asked you to do this. I’m going to give you more than what I am asking you to give up.”
The Linden Valley camp community supported and prayed about Bratcher’s decision to heed God’s call of planting a church, Christ Community in Smyrna, resembling the IMPACT camp worship style during IMPACT camp in 2015.
Upon leaving camp, Bratcher and his wife returned to Smyrna and began preparations for Christ Community Church. They planted the church and started with 20 people in August of 2015. Bratcher knew that God was in it from the beginning.
“One good thing after another happened. We didn’t have to worry about anything, and it was a good time,” Bratcher said. “We were having a lot of fun.”
In 2016 Bratcher made the decision to take his youth to FUGE camp in Panama City Beach, Fla. He said FUGE camp was very similar to IMPACT camp, but he noticed the relationship aspect was gone.
“Relationships were so important at this place. … they (camp leaders) actually know our students who come back here. Those relationships build year after year,” Bratcher said. “We went down to FUGE camp, and we noticed that was gone. We had a great time but it took going to another camp to realize how special this place (Linden Valley) was. I already knew IMPACT was amazing, but now, I really, really know.”
When Bratcher was back at IMPACT camp again this year, he heard God speak to him again on the first night.
“We came back here this year and I felt God speak to me the first night we were here. I was looking around, and I looked at my wife. I was so scared when we were here the last time of what God was asking me to give up, but as I looked at my wife and the group of 20 people here, I heard God tell me, ‘This is the thing I promised you.’ ”
IMPACT Camp has not just affected the youth, Bratcher said. “IMPACT has made a big impact on me, my wife, my children, and the entire church. … It changed the course of my ministry and everything I was doing. I expect that this place (Linden Valley) will continue doing that.”