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FBC Florala successful in revitalization effort comment (0)

March 31, 2011

By Sondra Washington

One mile and a state line was all that separated two struggling churches — each clinging to something the other desperately needed. Clear Springs Baptist Church, Laurel Hill, Fla., was growing in membership and bursting at the seams of its small building, while First Baptist Church, Florala, had no pastor and more room than its dwindling congregation could use.

In February 2010, after a great deal of prayer and several joint meetings, the two churches came together at First, Florala, a member of Covington Baptist Association, with Pastor Charles Lennard at the helm. Since then, those witnessing the union have been steadily amazed at how God has moved in the church and surrounding community.

“We’ve seen God do some amazing things through His people there (at First, Florala) and we are very grateful,” Director of Missions Larry Cummings said. “It’s a model for other churches of what God can do if they are open to His leadership. … It’s been a pleasure to watch what’s transpired there.”

Before joining with Clear Springs Baptist, First, Florala, averaged 35 in worship. Now the church gets visitors every week, new members every month and usually has between 175 and 200 in attendance.

Part of that growth is because the majority of Lennard’s Clear Springs congregation of about 200 followed him to First, Florala, but it’s also because the church has been reaching out to the community. For instance, the youth do missions Saturdays, when they go out and do things like mow yards, pick up trash and repair houses.

When Clear Springs came, it brought a lot of pastors, which meant the church was able to move into new ministries like Awana and add to the youth, Sunday School and children’s program.

“I did not think we would progress as fast as we have,” Lennard noted. “It was a perfect match — people loving, supporting and encouraging one another. … Both groups had a heart for missions and coming together. It has been more blessed than we expected (and) a lot more joy than we expected.”

Sara Goolsby, who has been a member of First, Florala, for about 50 years and was chairwoman of the pastor search committee before the churches united, said she truly feels that this experience has been “very God-led and -directed.”

Goolsby said some leaders of both churches had talked about teaming up two years earlier but it was not the right time.

“I don’t think it would have worked three or four years ago,” she said. “It wouldn’t have been as successful as this has been. … Our church had its ups and downs and had been through some tough times. … God’s timing is always perfect.”

After watching First, Florala, steadily “go down” over the years to the “worst situation” she had ever seen it in, longtime member Lucille Cox was the person who brought the idea of uniting with Clear Springs to Goolsby. Cox said First, Florala, needed to make some changes but it didn’t rush its decision even though she felt certain that God was calling Lennard to the church.

“It was not a fast, spur-of-the-moment thing,” she said, noting the process took several months. “We thought it out and went through the channels we needed to go through.”

Clear Springs had planned to build a church, but with the down economy, the bank wouldn’t lend it any money. And the church’s decision to unite with First, Florala, instead of building a church and going into debt is just fine with Linda Russell.

“It has been a great experience,” she said. “I think we still have the same group spirit that we had out there (at Clear Springs). We just have more room, and we’ve been able to grow. Everyone has accepted us. It’s worked out really well.”

When the church celebrated its first birthday Feb. 6, Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, was the guest speaker. Lance said he has never witnessed such a good account of how a congregation has worked together in a declining area to have a thriving church.

Cummings agreed the revitalization of First, Florala, is a wonderful story and said he is excited to see what the future holds for the church.

“We are very positive about what is going to be happening in Florala in the next few years because of the ministry of that church.”

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