By Grace Thornton
About two years ago, Parker Memorial Baptist Church, Anniston, took a big, bold risk, according to Joey Bentley.
“Parker (Memorial) is more than 125 years old. It would be easy to get in a pattern and not step outside of that pattern,” Bentley said. “But through some brave leadership and very intentional prayer, God led them to do something that was very, very bold.”
The risk? The old church took on $330,000 in a mortgage debt that didn’t belong to them to get the weight off a dwindling congregation at nearby First Baptist Church, DeArmanville.
They didn’t want to at first — it seemed unwise at the beginning.
But after two weeks of intentional prayer, they unanimously sensed it was exactly what they were supposed to do.
And when they acted, they opened the door for God to do big things, said Bentley, who stepped into the pulpit as pastor of Parker Memorial’s new DeArmanville campus — formerly First, DeArmanville — in January 2015.
“It was like a hybrid between a church plant and a church revitalization project,” Bentley said. “On one side it was a little scary.
But God had given us a vision.”
It was a vision that spurred the congregation at the home campus to invest their resources and the congregation at the new campus to get busy reaching out. And on Jan. 15, both campuses celebrated a debt paid in full in just 21 months and a DeArmanville congregation that had grown from 20 to more than 150.
The new campus is now self-sustaining and getting bigger all the time, according to Mack Amis Jr., pastor of Parker Memorial.
“Our church is really excited about what God has done there and what He’s still doing,” he said.
The DeArmanville campus is in a totally different area reaching a totally different group of people than the downtown campus of Parker Memorial, Amis said. “They have lots of young adults and a strong preschool and children’s ministry.”
Bentley said their biggest challenge right now is finding enough child care volunteers.
“We have three or four times the number of kids as a normal church our size,” he said, noting that the primary makeup of their community is young families living in nearby subdivisions. Many who visit the church haven’t previously been churchgoers.
“We’re creating a church culture where people are engaging and inviting others,” Bentley said.
The DeArmanville campus set a goal of 40 salvations and 25 baptisms, he said. On Feb. 12, Bentley baptized the first several — including his 7-year-old daughter.
“The gospel is going out,” he said. “The church family is relational and growing.”
And the new life breathed into the DeArmanville campus has been good for the congregation at the main campus too, he said.
“God led them to do something that was very, very bold and I think both have benefited and grown from that,” Bentley said.
“They took a leap of faith and obedience, and both campuses are much more healthy spiritually and numerically than we were two years ago.”
God has been faithful
Two years ago, no one knew exactly where the story of the DeArmanville congregation would go, he said. “But we’ve come a long way, and God has been so faithful. We’re so thankful. He has been very good to us as a church and I’m anxious to see what
He continues to do here.”
They’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg, Bentley said. “The project is just beginning — there is still so much more to do.”