Davey Lyon has a pond outside his house, and he says if he wanted fish for dinner he wouldn’t sit on the porch and expect them to hop out of the pond and onto the grill.
It’s the same for his church plant, Imago Dei Church at the 45 in Hayneville, into which Lyon and his family have been investing their lives since 2020. He grew up in Lowndes County and knows it well. It’s rural and poor, with pockets of housing miles apart.
Lyon knows if he wants to see the people there know Jesus, he’s got to go where they are.
“I think that’s something the Lord has been pressing on me. There are so many things now that keep people from coming to church,” he acknowledged. “We’re two generations away from people not knowing Christ if we don’t do something about it.”
Vision of a mobile church
With that in mind Lyon got the vision several months ago for a mobile church: a trailer, tent, chairs, bouncy house and pull-behind grill he could take out into the community. He also had the idea of bringing on student summer missionaries as church planting interns to help lead mobile Vacation Bible School.
God confirmed Lyon’s vision when a generous donor wrote a check for the cost of setting up the mobile church.
But then he got a phone call that made him question Imago Dei’s summer plans.
“I had four locations picked out for VBS, and about a week and a half before it was going to start I got a call that we hadn’t been able to get any student missionaries for the summer,” Lyon recalled.
He decided to cut the grass and pray about what to do next. As he did, he kept thinking about three high school students who had asked if he could help them get jobs for the summer. He had been building relationships with them by meeting with the high school football and basketball teams, feeding them meals and sharing devotionals.
“I kept coming back to these guys and thinking, ‘What can we do for them to provide discipleship opportunities and provide them with a job?’ And I kept thinking of someone I knew who might be willing to sponsor them for the summer,” Lyon related.
When he finished in the yard, he had a text message from that person.
“It said, ‘Give me a call when you get a chance. I want to talk about what I can do to help you,’” Lyon remembered. “We met the next day, and he wrote me a check to cover it.”
Acting on provision
That was all the confirmation Lyon needed. In June the teens went along with him and others from Imago Dei to take VBS to three areas — a local elementary school, city hall and a housing complex.
At the elementary school they grilled food, played with the kids and got to know the parents and grandparents who joined them.
Lyon said he realized right away that the programmatic approach they had originally planned for the summer missionaries would never have worked in this context.
“What we found was we needed to make it personal,” Lyon said. “We had opportunities to just go sit down by a kid and get to know them and share Jesus with them one on one.”
At the housing community the experience was different, Lyon said. They had around 30 kids each night but only three adults.
“These kids were cussing each other and getting into fights, but it really showed us why we were there. They need to know God loves them,” Lyon declared. “We would go over there and break them up and say, ‘These are the two greatest commandments — to love God and love others as yourself. They are made in the image of God just like you are.’ It gave us the opportunity to make it personal.”
It also gave Lyon a chance to explain that what they were doing was sin, how it separated them from God and how they could be forgiven through Jesus, he recalled.
One child who had instigated trouble in the group came up to Lyon at the end of the week and asked when they would be coming back.
Lyon said they plan to go back and do another two-night VBS later this month.
“That will be a place we try to have a consistent presence until maybe we could plant a church there in the future,” Lyon noted. “It’s been a joy to be able to go out and meet people where they are.”
‘A desire to grow’
He hopes the summer intern program will continue. In addition to the mobile VBS, Lyon and the students served the community doing things like pressure-washing bleachers at a local high school.
“I don’t know if there’s any more important discipleship time I could’ve spent this summer,” he said. “These guys are asking good questions, and they have a desire to grow in the Lord. I don’t know if they’re saved right now, but now they’re starting to think through, ‘Am I really saved or do I need to repent and give my life to Christ?’”
Lyon admitted he may have panicked at first when he found out no summer missionaries were coming, but “God had the plan the whole time. Even if the summer missionaries come next year, I still would like to continue the summer internship.”
Neal Hughes, director of missions for Montgomery Baptist Association, said he believes this summer allowed Lyon and the weeks of VBS to mold the young men.
“He needed some help with VBS, but he wanted to give them Jesus,” Hughes said, adding that Lyon and his wife, Amber, kind of “adopted” the boys and made them part of their family. “Now these guys can’t get enough of the Lord because they’ve seen it in Davey.”
An approach for any church
Hughes also said the mobile VBS model is “tremendous” and one other churches could use.
“Any church could go outside their doors and do the same thing,” Hughes asserted. “Every community has a park. A tent is not a costly item. And you would be right at the pinnacle of where lostness is by taking your VBS out the door and putting it in the backyard of the community.”
The food may have been the draw, but the gospel “was abundantly shared,” Hughes noted. “The community was strengthened, and the church grew and benefited from this, but the community benefited most because they had a man who said, ‘Hey, we’re not going to wait for you to come to us, we’re going to go to you.’
“It was an incredible plan, and God has blessed that incredible plan.”