If not for church shutdown, souls might ‘never been saved’

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Since the pandemic shutdown, some west Kentucky pastors said they are seeing an unexpected increase in salvation decisions.


Jody Kilburn, head of the Christian County Baptist Association, said when COVID-19 shutdown churches across Kentucky in March, few were pushed outside their comfort zone like pastors of rural churches.


“COVID not only came in and upset the status quo, it changed our priorities and showed us we need to be presenting the gospel in new ways,” said Kilburn.


Small Baptist churches in the association, like Olivet and New Barren Springs, rarely have what most would call a robust social media presence. While both churches have a page on Facebook and use it regularly to connect with members, neither had ventured into broadcasting Sunday morning worship services on the social media platform.


Kilburn said pastors quickly realized while their churches may be closed to in-person worship, they still had a flock that needed to be shepherded. In a matter of days, Olivet and New Barren Springs had moved to Facebook Live for sermons and Sunday school classes.


“You can’t stop change so you might as well embrace it,” Kilburn said, of the near-overnight technological switch – even instituting online giving options for the first time.


Perhaps the most unexpected result of embracing change was that by getting online and helping the community in new ways, both churches were reaching more people with the gospel – and, in return, people responded.


Paul Bunger, pastor of Olivet Baptist Church in Herndon, led a mother and her college-aged daughter to the Lord after an online presentation of the 3 Circles gospel interpretation.


“What this says to me is we need to continue our online presence,” said Bunger. “People are out there searching and looking for answers.”


Amber Emberton and her daughter, Kenzie, were baptized by Bunger on June 14 in front of a small group of onlookers practicing appropriate social distancing. By contrast, the service containing the ceremony has been viewed more than 200 times on Facebook. According to records in the Annual Church Profile, Olivet Baptist’s average Sunday worship attendance before the coronavirus was 50.


“We would not have gone to online services if not for the coronavirus,” Bunger said.


Chuck Poe, pastor of New Barren Springs Baptist Church in Hopkinsville, said COVID-19 prompted his church to initiate a food ministry in the community that led to the salvation decision of a woman who had been attending the church for 12 years.


“She accepted Jesus on Mother’s Day,” said Poe, was called to the church earlier this year. “It was one of those neat experiences that God did, and I got to be a part of.”


Poe said the pandemic pushed his church to think beyond their usual means of reaching people. Not only are worship services online, but Sunday school teachers from 84 to 26 years old are teaching online – and with “quadrupled” attendance.


But after reporting only one baptism since 2016, the number of salvation decisions is what’s most exciting. “I have about four people waiting to be baptized and we’re hoping to see more,” Poe said.


Kilburn said among the lessons to be learned from these two pastors is no matter the location of the church or number of members who regularly attend, churches can learn new skills and expand their reach for Christ.


“God is giving us a wonderful opportunity,” Kilburn said, to connect with local communities in new and relevant ways. Just think, he said, “if these two churches didn’t have an online presence, those people may have never been saved.”

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