By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
COVINGTON — Oak Grove Baptist Church, Covington, has seen a sizable increase in professions of faith and baptisms over the past year, with 13 new members joining the church and four additional individuals committed to joining in the coming weeks.
These praise-worthy numbers would be impressive at any time, but they are especially encouraging right now, as the church — and much of the nation — continues to rebound from the hardships caused by the pandemic.
So, the question is: what has led to the surge at Oak Grove? Has there been an intense evangelistic push? A strategic emphasis on social media? No, the answer is actually quite simple, said Oak Grove pastor Gary Stafford.
“I believe that God is moving in His church because God’s people are praying and asking God to move,” he said.
Those prayers have been answered in the form of nine baptisms — with two more awaiting — in recent months. The church has also seen two new members join by letter of transfer, and two more by professions of faith.
Stafford said he believes Oak Grove’s growth can be attributed to the church’s desire to see its community come to know the Lord. He noted that some groups in the church have focused on, and prayed about, this specific goal.
“Our Sunday afternoon Adult Discipleship Class — yes, we still have this class — recently read and put into practice the book ‘The Welcoming Church,’” Stafford said. “We then read ‘Fresh Power’ by Jim Cymbala.”
These studies, and others like it, have helped the church renew its focus on reaching new members and help fuel the recent growth.
Stafford has been senior pastor at Oak Grove for almost seven years. Prior to coming to Covington, he served as an interim Education and Outreach Minister at Second Baptist, Union City, with Dr. Ray Newcomb. The two men also served together at First Baptist Church, Millington, for 13 years.
During Stafford’s tenure at Oak Grove, the church has ordained four new deacons and licensed three minsters to the gospel ministry.
Stafford noted that there is an interesting dynamic among the staff at Oak Grove. Stafford, 64, serves with a ministerial staff who are all roughly 30 years younger than him.
“They are all part-time employees and they do a great job always encouraging me and reaching young adults with children and youth,” Stafford said.
Stafford said the church is rejoicing about the recent wave of new believers, and has been awed by the way God has enabled Oak Grove to regain its momentum after navigating through the many challenges caused by COVID-19.
Oak Grove, like most churches in the country, had to deal with an “on-again, off-again” schedule of worship gatherings and events during the pandemic. The interruption of in-person gatherings naturally resulted in a decline in attendance when worship services resumed.
Stafford noted that the church was routinely reaching 100 in Sunday School prior to last spring, but saw their overall numbers dip to around 25 worship attenders for the intermittent gatherings during the pandemic.
Now, however, the church is not only regaining its footing, but surging into a new and invigorating era of growth.
“The church is excited again, seeing God move and changing lives,” he said. “And personally, I’m more than excited to see God move in Oak Grove Baptist Church.”