What should a traditional, white Southern Baptist congregation do when they can no longer sustain their ministries or their facilities, when the community around them looks nothing like their membership, when they know they are dying?
Emmanuel Baptist Church was a thriving rural fellowship. But after 61 years of ministry, the North Carolina church’s leaders faced some painful decisions.
In June 2014 by unanimous vote, Emmanuel’s property was deeded to Meeting Place Church, an African American church plant in cooperation with the Charlotte-area Shady Brook Baptist Church and Metrolina Baptist Association. Lead pastor Vince Riley is a former Charlotte police officer and a former crusade director with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Glenn Flowe, Emmanuel’s interim pastor, said, “On our campus right now we have the Meeting Place Church, Emmanuel Church, a Hispanic church, and a Christian school is meeting in some of our facilities.” By agreement, Emmanuel will continue to meet in their facilities for five years before ceasing to exist as a church.
“I can honestly say that with a situation like this, involving so many major decisions and changes, I don’t see how it could have worked out any better,” Flowe said. “And keep in mind we still have people in our church who are charter members.
“It’s amazing how happy our people are about what they’ve done. When our church services are over on Sunday morning we walk out into the parking lot, and even though we have only six or eight cars for our congregation, the parking lot is filled. It is very gratifying to us. Our people are tickled to death.”
Flowe, with more than 50 years of ministry, retired in 2003 after 29 years at another Charlotte congregation. This is his third call as Emmanuel’s interim pastor.
A few years ago the church woke up to the reality that their community had changed. A survey revealed the neighborhood was approximately 66 percent black and 7 percent Hispanic. “The remaining white population was primarily senior adults who had lived there many years,” Flowe said.
“The situation was very bleak humanly speaking. The first Sunday I came as interim there were about 16 people in attendance. There was some disunity, some hurt, but the Lord brought healing to us.”
The church had no youth, no children, no choir and one adult Sunday School class.
Revitalization was an option. They considered a partnership with a larger church. “We talked to at least two churches about the potential of merging or finding someone who would come alongside of us.
But nothing was working out,” Flowe recounted.
Emmanuel’s leaders invited Bob Lowman, director of missions for the Metrolina association, to help them explore options. Lowman has been “extremely instrumental in leading us through this transition,”
Flowe said. “He has been very encouraging and understanding of our situation. He knew there would be pain with the separation and transition.”
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SOURCE: Baptist Press
K. Allan Blume/Biblical Recorder