100 Year Church

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

More than 100 years ago my great-grandparents on my mother’s side of the family were founding members in Hendersonville First Baptist Church. Hendersonville is a touristy-type town with mom and pop shops and a strong population of retired people. Agriculture sits atop the economic sector, with apple production leading the way. (The Apple Festival over Labor Day weekend celebrates all that is Hendersonville.)

Not only was this a great place to grow up, it is also a great place to return to for periodic visits. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of attending a service at Hendersonville First Baptist. My mother attends this church, along with my younger brother and his family. My brother Mark is a deacon and his wife Penny is on the church staff.

What is the current state of the century-old Baptist church of my great-grandparents? The day Susan and I attended with my mom, we accompanied her to the 9:30 am service. (They have three services on Sunday morning – 8:00, 9:30 and 11:00.) First off, it was difficult to find a nearby parking space. Once we parked, we passed a steady stream of churchgoers coming out and going in. There were lots of smiling faces of young and old, and an astonishing number of families.

My mother struggles with aching knees, and to make life simpler, she sits in the back row of the sanctuary. She has a usual group of friends who sit with her. When Susan and I joined the merry band, I was sitting on the end seat next to the aisle. I knew who Pastor Steve was, but to my surprise, he was circulating through the sanctuary and he made a point to come over to me and shake my hand. My brother told me later that he has a keen eye for spotting new people and intentionally introducing himself. Instead of sitting on the front row and waiting to be called to the pulpit, Pastor Steve joins in with the ushers and makes himself available (what a novel approach).

I was wondering what the worship and preaching would look like. Traditionally, Baptist churches sing mostly hymns, and they are known for their fiery sermons warning about the perils of hell. To my surprise there was a mix of contemporary songs and some people were even raising their hands in worship. The sermon was outstanding. Pastor Steve preached grace with a posture of humility, and there was no bait and switch (grace for salvation, but now on to the requirements to live the Christian life).

What were the signs of Healthy Church at Hendersonville First Baptist?

  • Offering multiple services and having a pastor who is dedicated to preaching three times each Sunday is remarkable.
  • The blend of young and old, and the core group of multiple generational families is a sign of endurance. My mother and brother’s involvement marks four generations of membership.
  • Providing a service that is worshipful—especially when it is done week in and out. This is a defining factor of Healthy Church.
  • A pastor who is outgoing and welcoming, and who consistently preaches the grace of a loving, personal God. Our GCI ministry model is defined as “Team-Based, Pastor-Led,” and while this expresses the need for the pastor to engage, equip and empower others to join Jesus in ministry, the role of the pastor still sets the tone for the congregation. Pastor Steve is a wonderful example.

In our quest to be the best expression of church that we can be, we need to be attentive to establishing stronger roots within a neighborhood/community. We also need to practice patience, because establishing those roots takes time, but will never happen unless we first identify the neighborhood where we fit, and we then roll up our sleeves and begin loving and serving that neighborhood. As we continue to give attention to the Hope Avenue of ministry, we need to constantly evaluate how welcoming we are, how worshipful our services are, and how clear is our grace-based preaching and posture. What will a new person experience when they visit our church service?

What will the story of our church be in 100 years when our great-grandchildren assemble to worship? I say thank you to my great-grandparents, Walter and Essie Garrett, for being part of a church that is still vibrant today.

Keeping the Faith!

Greg Williams

11 thoughts on “100 Year Church”

  1. Thank you Greg. A neighborhood experiences hope once we “identify the neighborhood where we fit, and we then roll up our sleeves and begin loving and serving that neighborhood.” Both church and neighborhood see the transforming power of Jesus’ gospel in doing this.

    1. My sister who passed away 2 years ago belonged to the Morrisville Pennsylvania baptist church who celebrated their 100th anniversary last year. Pastor Gary and many of the church members were so kind and loving to my sister who came to christ later in life.

    1. Good article. The pastor sets the tone. Parishioners and visitors are made to feel welcome. I’m reminded of a story a WWC pastor mentioned a number of years ago. A certain individual was looking for the “perfect” church. After attending quite a number of churches, he told his friend that he couldn’t find one. His friend gave him a rather terse reply, . . .if you find one, . . . you better not join it lest you ruin it!

  2. I feel that our Charlotte congregation exudes this feeling of hospitality. I just moved here almost 2 years ago and the people are warm and welcoming. I have been a member since 1980 and church was the same on the west coast.

    Mary Garbarino

  3. In Germany it is a time honored tradition for Lutheran pastors to stand at the door to welcome all congregants and visitors. And, once the service is over, the pastor stands again at the door to bid all farewell. Local intergenerational community involvement is an essential aspect of becoming „healthy church“.

  4. Good story Greg … Oh yes .. how great that we now count ourselves as part of the great Christian fellowship …
    When we made our changes I visited my old Church from my early 20s in England and found some of my old brothers still there keeping the faith as their church had done centuries .. it was a humbling experience.

  5. If we looked hard enough, we might find flocks that belong to God that we know nothing about, yet we should and we will. Yes, good to be open to Jesus’ great truths.

  6. The last question caught my attention. There is a saying, “every few years in our history, a community rearranges itself – its social structures, its arts, its key institutions. Fifty years later there is a new community and the people born then cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived and into which their parents were born”. We are living through such a transition.

  7. Thanks Greg for this example of a growing healthy church fellowship, without the bait and switch message, that keeps the congregation in fear of going to hell. The Love of God is being preached and seen among visitors & the members of the body of Christ! Jn 13:34-35

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