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Sharing space rejuvenates Dothan church, opens new door for ministrycomment (0)

February 11, 2010

By Brittany N. Howerton

After seeing its congregation drop to about 20, South Lena Baptist Church, Dothan, had a decision to make: close its doors or open them to a new ministry?

And the timing couldn’t have been better because St. James Baptist Church, a black church plant that had been meeting in the Columbia Baptist Association office for about four years, was looking for a new meeting space.

Now, two years later, the South Lena Street facility plays host to both churches as they alternate service and Sunday School times.

“There are times that we have programs together, homecoming together and revival together,” said Don Falgout, pastor of South Lena Baptist. “If there’s a special program either of our churches is going to have, then we invite the other. It’s a very good working relationship.”

To balance out the blessing of meeting in a building rent-free, St. James Baptist takes care of paying utilities and provides some additional manpower to the mostly senior citizen group who constitute South Lena Baptist.

But for the South Lena Baptist congregation, the partnership is more than just a chance to gain a little help. It’s an opportunity to make an investment.

“If you look at the life of churches, they live in a cycle and pass on,” Falgout said. “We look at it as this is the way the Lord is giving us spiritual children we wouldn’t be able to have otherwise. … It’s a way we feel like we are being beneficial to the kingdom of God.”

For Al Williams, pastor of St. James Baptist, the partnership is another step toward establishing his congregation’s spiritual identity.

“Without a church building, it’s hard to form an identity — a place we can call our home even if it’s temporary,” he said. “But to be there for a time period has given us an identity to embark on our relationship with God and with the community in ministry.”

Williams said he hopes when his church moves out on its own, South Lena Baptist members will be able to say, “That body of Christ truly is the ‘body of Christ.’”

“Our vision statement is … to be able to touch people the way Jesus touched them, to hear people the way Jesus heard them and to love people the way Jesus loved them. And that’s the ministry I hope to leave on South Lena — that they can say they were ministered to by us,” Williams said.

But the ministry has spread beyond the church walls.

Had it not been for the partnership, “we would have never been able to reach some of these people (in the community),” Falgout said, noting St. James Baptist’s 32 baptisms.

“We tried and we were miserably failing at it,” he said.

“We went door to door, and we just were not doing well. … I really think the fact that Brother Al could lead some folks to the Lord has made our people feel like their lives are a little bit richer. They look at it like I do — that we have an investment in St. James. But let me tell you, St. James feels like they have an investment in us.”

Jerry Grandstaff, director of missions for Columbia Association, hopes this partnership is just the beginning of what the association’s churches can do.

“I think it’s a large leap in the right direction because it gives that new work an existing community to reach people to spread the gospel. … It’s not that we want to have white churches and black churches, but it’s about how best can we penetrate pockets of people and reach them for Christ?” he said.

“Sometimes it’s best to have churches that are specifically developed to do that. I think if we can multiply what we’re doing with St. James eventually in the future, then we would have multiplied works in this area,” he said.

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