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‘Declining’ Huntsville church not giving upcomment (0)

October 30, 2008

By Megan Norris Jones

Bethany Baptist Church, Huntsville, is a church in transition. Some might call it a church in decline. Most of its members are retired, and its young people have moved away. A sanctuary built to hold 350 people now hosts only 50 on an average Sunday morning.

The Madison Baptist Association church’s neighborhood — like so many throughout Alabama — is in transition, too, as its residents are increasingly poor and members of minority groups.

But Harold Sellers, who serves as Bethany Baptist’s interim pastor, sees the situation as an opportunity to reach out to the community and find a better way to use the church’s facilities.

Throughout the summer, Bethany Baptist hosted a series of community events designed to increase the interaction between the congregation and its neighbors and make members of the community, which is predominantly black, feel welcome at the predominantly white church.

“The hopes were that through these events, we could reach people and get them into Sunday School,” Sellers said.
And those hopes have been realized as the church has seen some children and teens enroll in Sunday School as a direct result of its outreach efforts.

The first such outreach event was a week of backyard Bible clubs hosted in conjunction with youth groups from Crawford Baptist Church, Mobile, and First Baptist Church, East Brewton.

More than 50 children attended that week and 11 were saved.

“The members of Bethany Baptist were such a blessing,” said Michelle Wade, a member of Crawford Baptist’s youth group.

“They were very kind and generous. They welcomed us with open arms. I could tell that many of them were very excited about what God was doing through the backyard Bible club ministry and also the upcoming events they had scheduled.

“You could tell they wanted to make an eternal impact for the gospel by reaching out to the surrounding community.”

The next Saturday, Bethany Baptist invited a missions team from Mable Hill Baptist Church, Ardmore, to lead Kid’s Fun Day on the church lawn. Six people were saved through the day’s events and sharing of the gospel.

The church groups that helped with events “really saw they were accomplishing a mission for God,” Sellers said.
That was certainly the experience of Brett Chancery, youth minister at First, East Brewton.

“We saw a need,” he said. “There were empty pews where the gospel was being preached. Part of our mission this summer was to help Bethany Baptist reach the surrounding community.”

After hosting events with other churches, Bethany Baptist was finally ready to tackle a project itself — hosting its first Vacation Bible School (VBS) in many years.

Twenty-two church members led activities for more than 20 children that week, which culminated in a Saturday VBS for about 25 adults led by Ron Lynch, church ministries director for Madison Association. Eleven people made professions of faith during VBS.

Sellers said the church intends to continue reaching out through seasonal events and with visiting youth groups.

While Sellers hopes these ministries will pave the way for Bethany Baptist to once again be a thriving church with a strong membership based in its own community, he said the congregation also is “hoping to model this thing in such a way that other churches in transitional areas can see a way to go.”

For more information, contact Sellers at Madison Association at 256-536-0015 or by e-mail at haroldsellers@bellsouth.net.

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