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Crane Hill congregation takes church service to local marinacomment (0)

August 11, 2005

By Doug Rogers

When the members of Bethany Baptist Church, Crane Hill, talk about heading to the lake on Sunday, it doesn’t bother their pastor, Mike Rester. In fact, he encourages it. That’s because every Sunday morning, the West Cullman Baptist Association church provides a worship service at Ryan Creek Marina for boaters, fishermen, vacationers and anyone else who wants to attend. 
“We have a lot of people in our church who live on Smith Lake, so it’s just a natural thing for us,” Rester said. On any given Sunday, he noted, at least half of the congregation consists of first-time visitors. “We are meeting people from all over the state of Alabama who normally wouldn’t be in church at all on Sunday, but we’re taking church to them on the lake.”
The ministry began last year, first as an outreach to the marina restaurant’s manager and staff, who were unable to attend regular worship services. It quickly began attracting others, reaching a high attendance of 57 last year. The service originally was held at 6:45 a.m. Sundays but has now been moved forward to 8 a.m.
The marina’s owners are supportive, providing a covered area for worship, complete with permanently installed audio speakers. During the winter months, the restaurant was closed, and the church was invited to hold services there until the weather warmed up again.
During the summer, worshippers arrive in boats, cars, motorcycles and even Sea-Doos to take part in a 40-minute service that includes a brief Sunday School lesson, music and a message. Preaching responsibilities rotate between Rester and two other church members who are students at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Extension in Birmingham.
Grady Jones started attending as a weekend vacationer, then moved from Birmingham and joined Bethany Baptist a few months later. 
“This ministry means a great deal to me, and I’ve already made a ton of friends,” Jones said. “I’ve become an official greeter now, and the friendships have grown from handshakes to hugs.”
David Gilbert also discovered the church shortly after moving to the Smith Lake area, drawn by the appeal of reaching people who enjoy boating. 
“We’ve targeted a group of people who need to hear a message,” Gilbert explained. “We have people who help in this ministry who have boats, who know the lake and who are on the lake encountering people who love the lake — it’s a ready-made association.”
The Church on the Lake’s future looks bright. As the temperature has climbed this summer so has the number of worshippers, peaking July 3 with 118 in attendance. 
A neighboring marina was recently sold and in its place will soon be two condominium buildings, potentially housing 130 people. Already The Church on the Lake is responsible for the addition of eight members to Bethany, including two baptisms. Gilbert also envisions home Bible studies being started as a result of the relationships being formed.
Rester is excited about how The Church on the Lake is motivating church members to be intentionally evangelistic. 
“Our church has discovered that we can expand into areas outside our walls and actually go to where the people are,” he said. “There are people at this ministry who would never set foot inside our church, so it gives us an opportunity to deliberately and intentionally be where the people are, taking them the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

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