By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
In September, I had the privilege of “preaching” at my home church (Lima Baptist) in Travelers Rest, S.C. I grew up in that church and was saved and baptized at Lima Baptist. That’s where my spiritual roots are.
Lima is similar to many churches in Tennessee. It’s small in size. Right now, the church is in a downward trend — maybe 30-40 people on a good week. But, in years past the church has had as many as 70-80, maybe more. It’s in a small community with many churches nearby.
The church is around 150 years old and among its pastors over the years was a college student named R.G. Lee. Lee would move on to become one of the most recognized pastors in Southern Baptist Convention life.
He was a long-time pastor at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis and wrote numerous books. But he never forgot the church that he pastored while studying at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. In one of his books, he tells the story of a “widow lady” at the church who was an answer to his prayers when he desperately needed some money for tuition while he was in college.
Countless people in addition to R.G. Lee (myself included) have been ministered to and nurtured at that small country church that sits atop a hill in northern Greenville County.
It may be small in size but it’s had a huge impact on the kingdom. There’s no way of really knowing how many people accepted Christ because of the ministry of that church over the many decades. That was primarily my message to them on that September Sunday.
I challenged them to not give up but to remember that God had a purpose for them all these years and that He still does today. Lima will never be a “big” church in size but it is a “big” church because it has been faithful to reach the people God has sent their way.
That’s all God wants from His people — to be faithful to the assignment He gives. That’s why we need so many different kinds of churches. Lima reached people who would never go to a “large” church.
In Tennessee, we have a lot of churches just like Lima and I’m so grateful for them. They reach a segment of our population that needs the Lord, just like those people who live in larger regions of the state. They all are lost and need to hear about the love of Jesus Christ.
The Tennessee Baptist Convention is so blessed. We have large and small churches, rural and city/town churches and everything in between. We have traditional, established churches and we have new church plants geared toward reaching a new generation. All are needed.
It is estimated that one out of every two people in Tennessee do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As the Bible reminds us, “the fields are ready for the harvest.” In order to reach Tennessee for Christ, we need every church.
It doesn’t matter if your church is large or small as long as you are reaching the people God puts in your path. And, He sends people your way every day. They may not be walking in the front doors of our churches, but they are out there on the sports fields, the grocery stores, the schools, and every other segment of your community. An effective church reaches outside its walls.
To reach Tennessee for Christ and to see our churches baptizing 50,000 people a year by 2024 (one of the five objectives that have been adopted by Tennessee Baptists), it will take a joint effort. Every church is important.