By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
MURFREESBORO — It’s been quite a journey for River Rock Baptist Church in Murfreesboro: In the past decade, the church has gone from survival to revival.
Under the leadership of pastor Don Herron — along with the help of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s revitalization team and abundant praying — the church has recovered from its darkest days and is now once again making an impact in its community.
Sandi Kirkwood, a member at River Rock, believes the transformation can be attributed to one simple concept — love.
“(There was a) change in atmosphere,” she said. “When you walked in, you felt the love; you felt that you were needed, and this is where you belonged.”
One of the most important factors behind the church’s resurgence has been the congregation’s renewed interest in outreach. Rather than just meeting on Sundays for a “holy huddle” — and celebrating the fact that the church had survived — the members knew they needed to show that their church was open to growth.
“About five years ago, we said, you know, we’ve really got to get outside these walls,” said Herron. “And that’s when we really started to press (about reaching the community). And when the church revitalization conferences came, they really helped to solidify and put a focus on where we wanted to go.”
Another noticable change at River Rock was the renewed sense of joy among the members, said TBMB revitalization specialist Kevin Minchey.
“I showed up unannounced one Wednesday evening during a regularly scheduled prayer meeting, and I was taken back first by the size of the crowd, and even more so by the enthusiasm in the room,” Minchey said. “They were actually praying, praising, and testifying. It wasn’t a special-emphasis service. It was just a regular mid-week ‘hour of power’ as some used to call it.”
Roughly 10 years ago, River Rock was on the brink of closing its doors permanently. “The church was in very rough shape,” Herron said. “They were going to bring it to a vote whether to stay open or to close the church.”
At the time, Herron was the pastor of a church plant, Harmony Baptist, in Murfreesboro. Through a series of conversations between members of the two churches — Harmony and River Rock — the idea of a church merger began to take shape.
Although there were many hurdles to overcome, the potential merger had symbiotic balance: Harmony Baptist had a pastor, but no property; River Rock had property, but no pastor.
After much prayer and planning, the members of Harmony Baptist voted 100 percent in favor of the merger. The vote wasn’t unanimous among the small remaining congregation at River Rock, but the proposal was approved by a high majority.
Soon, the two churches joined together, and River Rock was able to regain its footing — at least enough to stay open.
“We started with about 60 folks,” Herron said, “and for the first four or five years, it was more of a survival thing that we had to get done.”
After the church had regained some stability, Herron said the members began to shift their focus. The church wasn’t satisfied with simply existing. They wanted to make an impact for the Kingdom — and began taking steps to ensure that was happening.
“We started to focus on reaching the community, and that’s really when we started to build some momentum as a church,” said Herron.
“The church now, compared to even three or four years ago, people are much more open about talking about their faith to others outside the church. They are excited to bring people to the church, and they are excited to tell people about Jesus.”
One way that the church is reaching the community is by being welcoming to visitors.
“From Day 1 — when they didn’t know us from Adam — they came up and started hugging us,” said Brad Moore, who is now a member. “So, we immediately felt a connection.”
Minchey believes River Rock can be an inspiration for other churches who are going through with hard times.
“(River Rock) could have blamed the circumstances and given up. Instead, the church has prayerfully persevered,” Minchey said. “That’s the key. Mark Clifton calls it ‘ tactical patience.’ You work and pray until God chooses to move.”
In the days ahead, River Rock hopes to not only maintain its effectiveness, but enhance it.
“The important thing for us now is to make sure that we don’t rest on our laurels,” said Herron.
“This church has experienced some tough times, and, praise God, we’ve made it through that. And now, we’ve got to keep moving forward, and keep doing the things we are called to do.”