PADUCAH, Ky. (KT) – Clay Hall wasn’t looking for any signs about becoming the pastor Oak Grove Baptist Church. But God provided one anyway.
Members of the 107-year-old church, which was hanging by a thread, had converted one of its empty classrooms into a prayer room and they were seeing God answer their prayers (A congregation doesn’t have to number in the hundreds for that to happen).
Since August, Hall had been preaching for them on Sunday afternoons after doing a morning service at Lake City Baptist Church, where he was the pastor, in the morning. Oak Grove had been without a pastor for several years when they extended the call to Hall.
“The Lord just knit our hearts together,” he said. “Not just mine and not just the congregation, but my wife’s as well. We felt like it was a God thing.”
Hall, 42, was a vocational pastor at Lake City Baptist Church for seven years. He resigned from there in November to accept the position at Oak Grove. However, he continued to preach in the mornings for Lake City and in the afternoon for Oak Grove until the end of the year.
Oak Grove, founded in 1914, had been in a downward spiral with only about seven or eight families making up the church. “If one family would have said close the doors, the rest would have agreed,” Hall said. “When they called the meeting to discuss the possibility of calling me here as pastor, there were some families afraid the purpose of that meeting was to close the doors. They felt like the Lord wasn’t done. None of them felt like they had that freedom from the Lord (to close).”
What happened next is an example of how churches and associations can partner together to help a sister church regain its footing and its heartbeat. It was a replant of the best kind, bringing renewed life and a thankful spirit to a church that, instead of talking about closing its doors, is more interested in opening its doors for more to hear the gospel.
“During those months we were working on praying and networking to see if the Lord might raise up others,” Hall said. “The Lord blessed, and we were able to find several supporting churches and a few individuals willing to give on a monthly basis to pay for almost a fulltime (pastor) salary.”
Hall and his wife Monica have six children ages 7 to 17 and the church’s parsonage wasn’t big enough for them. But with some money the church had saved for a building fund to renovate, along with the help of other churches and volunteers who provided time, labor and materials, they did a $20,000 renovation for a lot less, he said.
Hall said several individuals - Bryan Grigg, Rick Neiber, Fickes, Ruth Nelson and Craig Brown - donated time and labor, materials and money to the parsonage renovation.
“Providentially, the Lord put it on (West Union Association Associational Mission Strategist) Howard Atkinson’s heart to ask two of our associational leaders, Scott Fickes and Chris Cooper, to attend a replant conference in Atlanta a matter of a month before I approached Howard,” Hall said. “We were able to pull off the partnership with the association and Howard was excited to be part of that. He kind of deferred to Scott and Chris and they gave leadership to the association to advance that partnership.”
Fickes is the pastor of Barlow Baptist Church, which agreed to become a sponsor church for Oak Grove, and Cooper is the pastor of Mt. Pleasant which has been instrumental in helping as well.
“They agreed to support us monthly and helped with some renovations,” Hall said. “I preached there last Sunday (morning) and Scott preached here for our dedication service at 2 p.m. That was a really special day. Our folks got to see all the faces of the pastors who I had been telling them had partnered with us.”
Kentucky Baptist Convention West Region consultant Larry Purcell and Church Planting and Development Associate Toby DeHay were also critical in the replant and attended the dedication. Other supporting pastors and churches were Darrell Crawford (Living Hope in Hopkinsville), Faris Sahawneh (Hard Money Baptist Church in Boaz) and Darrick Holloman (Highpoint Baptist Church in Mayfield).
“We need a ton of new churches to be started and restarted in Kentucky,” Atkinson said. “It’s not happening enough. The associational level, the local church level, is not taking the initiative. The KBC is working hard to make things available. I think most of our churches still just don’t understand the number one way to evangelism is to restart churches.”
Atkinson had been working with Oak Grove since November 2019 and then throughout the pandemic year as well. Through the help of pastors in the association, it all started coming together with a replant that encouraged the givers and the recipients.
Seeing was believing for the nearly 30 members of Oak Grove, which saw the dedication and partnerships as a sign that better days were ahead for them. WMU members from churches were in attendance too along with Purcell and DeHay from the KBC. It was a day of celebration and victory.
“They (the congregation) felt validated they had heard from the Lord correctly that he was not done here,” Hall said. “Howard was able to present us with an anonymous gift from a church in Kentucky, I assume, that gave a gift to the association and wanted to bless our church. It was a $5,000 check.”
The support from sister churches and the West Union Association likely kept the doors open at Oak Grove and the new pastor plans to keep praying and working to grow the church with the gospel at the forefront of the ministry.
He said the church is located at a crossroads with the tough side of Paducah to the north, a middle-class area of Reidland to the east, and a rural community to the south. It could draw a melting pot of members.
“Our desire is to be the kind of church where you come in and realize this is a place where you have people from all walks of life. What we have in common is Jesus Christ and He brings us together. I want the makeup of the church to reflect the makeup of the community.”
Oak Ridge will start doing services starting at 10 a.m. beginning Sunday, the pastor said. That should bolster attendance, which has hovered around 20 since they’ve been doing the afternoon services. The regular morning time will make it more inviting to the community, Hall said.
As for Hall and his wife, he said it was a step of faith in taking on a church that was so close to shutting down.
“I have always had a pioneering spirit and when I married my wife, I asked her to be a pioneering missionary with me,” Hall said. “That’s the way the Lord has wired me. (But) I would not be interested in just replanting any church. This is a church that, even though few in number, is still doing ministry and is engaged in reaching people to Christ.”
Hall is convinced the greatest days are ahead for the church.
“I had the joy of baptizing some of the fruit of their labor,” he said. “It was prior to her sentencing. Now she’s in jail. We have a couple of church members in jail. I was able to baptize her and that’s the Lord working. You want to be where the Lord is working.”
And Hall knew any church that would turn an empty classroom into a prayer room was far from finished. They are already looking at how they can be part of the KBC’s Gospel to Every Home initiative and plan on rolling up their collective sleeves for the sake of the gospel in their community.
“We all need to be sharing the gospel and making disciples who make disciples who make disciples,” Atkinson said. “We need to focus on discipleship and continue with them to help them grow.”