By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
SMYRNA — Only God.
That’s the explanation pastor Kent Shingleton has for what occurred at Hope Fellowship Church in Smyrna during a year that will forever be known by a virus that brought the world to a screeching halt.
For nearly nine years the former church plant met in a local elementary school and members spent a great deal of time each week setting up and tearing down their “portable church.”
In the fall of 2019, Shingleton felt called to lead the church to begin its first ever fund-raising campaign to begin the process of buying property for future relocation.
On Jan 1, 2020, Hope Fellowship launched its “Hope for the House,” a two-year campaign to fully fund the church’s ministry budget while intentionally raising money for a future church home.
Eight days later, Shingleton received a phone call that will forever be etched in his memory.
The pastor of Trinity Church, an interdenominational church located on five acres on Lee Victory Parkway (a highly trafficked area in Smyrna) and another member (who happened to be Shingleton’s neighbor) called and asked a simple question, “Do you want to buy our church?”
With a laugh, Shingleton recalled that after a moment of stunned silence, he answered in the typical Southern Baptist manner, “How much?”
After more silence, the pastor of the church answered, “$500,000.”
Shingleton didn’t hesitate. He answered in the affirmative, took it to church leaders and they closed on the property (which is valued at more than $1.5 million) by the end of February. He is appreciative of the sacrifice of Trinity which disbanded as a congregation. “They basically gave us $1 million,” he said.
In a sermon on Feb. 28 commemorating the church’s 10th anniversary, Shingleton told the church, “While I was trying to figure out how we could raise a million dollars, God said ‘Kent, let me show you and the people at Hope how I can gift you $1 million without anyone ever writing a check!’ ”
The church originally planned to renovate the facility and add a sanctuary and move into the property in 2022. “COVID changed those plans,” said Shingleton, a former youth evangelism specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
As it became apparent that COVID was not going away quickly, Shingleton and church leaders realized they would be unable to go back to the elementary school. While they were meeting online, the church did enough renovations to give them a place to meet once they regathered.
“It has worked great,” Shingleton affirmed. “The building has been a huge blessing.”
By not having to set up and tear down each week at the elementary school, Hope Fellowship is able to do more ministry now, Shingleton affirmed. In addition, the church has a place to meet throughout the week for various meetings and ministries where they could not do that before COVID, he said. “God provided,” he said.
To be able to acquire a church facility just weeks before a worldwide pandemic is unbelievable, Shingleton continued. “You can’t help but say, ‘Look what God did.’ It’s undeniable.”
Unlike many churches that have yet to reach post-COVID attendance numbers, Hope Fellowship has actually gained between 75-100 new people since moving into their new building last summer.
The church placed a large sign that says “Hope” which can be viewed easily from the main thoroughfare.
“People see the sign and are drawn to it,” Shingleton said. “They need hope.”
Prior to the pandemic, Hope Fellowship was averaging between 290-310 at the school. In late January ,the church, which holds two services (one with mask required and one with mask optional) on Sunday mornings, had an attendance of 329, its highest since COVID began.
And, that does not take into account the 70 or so people who have not come back to live-person services but are still viewing online and giving to support the ministries of the church, Shingleton said.
“The Lord is so faithful,” he observed. B&R