Aging church births 3 new church congregations, 1 new church partnership

Aging church births 3 new church congregations, 1 new church partnership

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

Michael Ethridge says what’s going on at Trinity Baptist Church is a “small story, but it’s a Kingdom story.”

It depends on what you call small.

Sure, the group meeting at the storefront building in Argo on Sundays might be small — 30 to 35 — but they’re like a “house church on steroids,” said Ethridge, who serves as Trinity’s minister of music.

“It’s a very healthy congregation,” he said. “It’s warm and affirming, and it’s actively reaching out to the community.”

And the church’s story is layered like an onion, starting all the way back with a core group at South Roebuck Baptist Church, Birmingham, who didn’t want to see its church’s mission stop.

Gary Fisher, who serves as pastor of both South Roebuck and Trinity, said it’s a “unique thing that God has done.”

Back in 2005, before Fisher was pastor, South Roebuck felt like God was leading them to do three things — honor the legacy of an aging congregation, reach the next generation and plant a new ministry in their current building that would outlive them.

‘Threefold plan’

“The congregation didn’t want to alter their style of worship because that’s what made church church for them,” Fisher said. “They wanted to accommodate that but also reach the changing community.”

So first they raised $850,000 in a campaign and planted North Valley Church, Margaret, in 2006 under the leadership of then-pastor Chris Crain. At first, Crain served as pastor of both campuses, with the new church aimed at reaching young families through its contemporary worship style and a strong weekday early learning center for preschoolers. But as the North Valley congregation grew larger, Crain decided to focus his energy there.

That’s when Fisher was called as pastor of South Roebuck.

And it wasn’t long before the original congregation’s threefold plan got more involved. Over time, South Roebuck planted Kingdom Family Christian Fellowship in the Huffman area, a congregation that’s “thriving,” Fisher said. They also partnered with New Beginnings Christian Fellowship, a predominantly African-American congregation that meets in South Roebuck’s sanctuary.

And South Roebuck started The Chapel, a small, older congregation that met for traditional worship in a mobile building on the North Valley campus. Its intention was to reach retirees who were moving to the area alongside young families. Eventually, The Chapel members felt the need to step out on their own, and they moved to the storefront and changed their name to Trinity. 

‘Wonderful continuation’

“When we were The Chapel attached to North Valley and a part of that strategy, it made sense to have that name,” said Ethridge, who along with Fisher serves both the South Roebuck and Trinity campuses. “But in a storefront, that name conveyed more of ‘this is a wedding chapel’ than a church.”

And they want people to know they are a church.

“I really sense a new spirit of ‘let’s reach out and find people we might connect with,’” Ethridge said. “It’s a wonderful continuation of South Roebuck’s long history of missions support.”


Congregations must adapt to life cycle of churches

Gary Fisher said he believes churches are like people — they have a life cycle of their own.

“They grow through infancy, become adolescent[s], grow through adulthood and at some point they may reach an elderly stage where they’re not able to do what they used to do,” said Fisher, pastor of South Roebuck Baptist Church, Birmingham.

At age 71, Fisher said he spends a lot of his energy pouring into his grandchildren, and he said metaphorically speaking, that’s what South Roebuck is doing now too.

“There is dignity in aging,” he said. “The church may not be able to go out and reach the neighborhood themselves, but they can support their children and grandchildren while they do it.” 

‘Keep on working’

That’s what they’re doing through North Valley Church, Margaret; Trinity Baptist Church, Argo; and two other congregations they’re partnering with (see story above). And they support all of the social ministries of Birmingham Metro Baptist Association, Fisher said.

“I think it is fitting for me to say, ‘As your pastor, I’m going to love you, and we’re going to have worship and feel His presence.’ I’m committed to be here for every single church member who needs a pastor to be there as they age,” Fisher said. “We’ve got a succession plan here, as long as the Lord lets us, we’re going to continue to pray and worship. We will keep being South Roebuck Baptist Church, and we will keep on working.”