Resurgence: A Church Back From the Brink
Churches experience fluctuations in attendance throughout the year with some Sundays higher than others as part of a normal, healthy pattern. Yet, sometimes, a gradual decline in attendance can turn into a steep drop, leaving a church in a precarious situation. This was the case with Centerville Baptist Church in Anderson, South Carolina.
Centerville went from being a church with upwards of 160 members in 2004 to one with only 30 in attendance on Sunday mornings by 2012. Ruth Dooley, member of Centerville since 1992, says that there was a small group of about 30 members that stuck it out, hoping for resurgence within the church. “For a while, we didn’t really grow that much, because we had a couple of splits while I’ve been there. We just hung in there until Pastor Robbie got there.”
In 2012, the church decided to ask Pastor Robbie Smith to temporarily fill the empty pastorate, and that decision sparked immense growth within the church. Smith had attended Centerville in childhood with his parents, who were members back in the 70s when the church was known as the Centerville Mission. Accepting Christ as his Savior at the age of nine, Smith grew up in the church. At that time, the church was at its peak with many outreach events such as crusades, concerts, and rallies throughout the year.
“Unfortunately like in many churches man’s ways got into the way of God’s ways, and issues developed that began to create division in the church. Many would call it a church split, but I prefer to call it a multiplication such as is found in Acts. God knew it was to happen, and maybe he allowed it to happen for a purpose,” said Smith. As a result of the split, Covenant Baptist Church was formed and now runs over 600 in worship. Covenant is where Smith and his father preached for the first few months of its inception until they found a permanent pastor. Smith served there for 12 years in a full-time capacity.
In 2011, Smith visited Centerville with his family. He saw a changed church from what he remembered, with a congregation of mostly senior adults replacing one with varied age groups.
In 2012, Smith received a call from one of Centerville’s members asking if he would consider preaching until they found an interim pastor. Smith agreed and asked Covenant Church to help. “Covenant and Centerville worked together for about a year with the agreement that either side could pull out if help was no longer wanted or needed. It’s rare that a church that came out of another church would work together to help keep the doors open. So,basically, I and another retired minister who attended Covenant, tag-teamed to fill the pulpit.”
A few interim pastors came and went, but none seemed to work out. In the beginning of 2013, Smith felt that God began dealing with his heart and a new possibility: pursuing the pastorate at Centerville himself. He had a full-time job at Covenant as the Minister of Education, Youth, and Children that included benefits, and the idea of giving all of that up for the unknown took a lot of trust in the Lord. “But as God dealt with me those securities were not as important as God’s will. A little later after my wife prayed about it, she came to me and said ‘let’s do it.’ It meant giving up a lot and walking on faith trusting God!” said Smith.
Supplementing his income by working at the Chick-fil-A in town, Smith eventually accepted the pastorate at Centerville on a part-time salary. His first Sunday in the pulpit was Mother’s Day 2013.
Since Smith began his ministry at Centerville, the church has flourished under his direction with a new focus on outreach. “We began to reach out to the community to change the image of the church that it once had. We have done Volunteer Fireman Sunday where we brought in our local fire department in a service and gave a love offering. We have done huge community egg hunts that we invited all the children in our local school system to, resulting in about 1,000 people present in an outdoor event where the Gospel is shared and kids have fun. So, there is a positive vibe in the community,” told Smith.
The church has focused a great deal on bringing in young families with their outreach efforts and haseven created a website and a social media presence to connect with a younger demographic. Member Ruth Dooley cites Smith’s hard work with outreach as the factor that grew the church. “He is doing a fantastic job trying to get young people in there. We have a nursery, and we haven’t had anyone in our nursery for a long time. Now, we have four or five babies in there every Sunday.”
As the church grew, Smith was able to give his notice at his second job eight months later. Centerville continues to grow, and Smith hopes that it will be his home for the duration. “I hope and pray that I am at Centerville for a long time and hope to retire at my home church. We are not a perfect church and still have a long way to go in being the church we need to be for our community, but I am thankful for where God has brought us and continues to take us. He is the one who has allowed this to happen!”
For more information on Centerville Baptist, visit their website at www.centervillebaptist.org.