Small in numbers, church finds strength in partnering to reach its community

Austinville Baptist Church is a small congregation. In the 1960s when attendance was at its peak there were no more than 85 to 100 people on Sunday, said pastor Jason Akers. Average attendance today is 12 to 15 adults — and four children. That poses challenges in reaching its community.

AUSTINVILLE, Va. — Austinville Baptist Church is a small congregation. In the 1960s when attendance was at its peak there were no more than 85 to 100 people on Sunday, said pastor Jason Akers. Average attendance today is 12 to 15 adults — and four children.

“Our congregation hasn’t had Vacation Bible School for many years and we realized that it is a great way to reach children and families,” he said.

So Akers and two members of the church attended an associational VBS conference last spring to explore the possibility of reviving this summer outreach event in Austinville.

Marion Baptist Church’s van parked in front of Austinville Baptist Church for a community fair.

“Lisa Dockery, minister to children at Marion [Va.] Baptist Church, was leading  and as she talked about what was needed to host a Bible school, we realized our congregation couldn’t do a full-fledged program,” said Akers.

Afterward while talking with Akers, Dockery suggested that he might consider joining another church in their area for VBS or consider a one-day community event in partnership with another church. And that’s what happened on Sept. 7 as 30 members of Marion Baptist Church partnered with the smaller congregation to host a community fair.

 “Everyone had a wonderful time and it was a good mission project for us,” said Dockery. “Our church has had many mission trips during the past few years, but this was one that we could all do together.”

A few weeks prior to the event, Lisa and her husband traveled to Austinville to help put a sign on the church’s front lawn and go door-to-door with Jason and his wife passing out flyers. Lebanon Baptist Association’s block party trailer, equipped with an inflatable bouncer and obstacle course, along with popcorn and snow-cone machines, was reserved.

Marion Baptist members packaged items for 15 stations of Bible-related games on the Wednesday prior to the event. Each child completing a station received a gift bag with a puzzle or activity related to that Bible story to take home and do with their parents, said Dockery.

“There was an obstacle course for the story of Zaccheus, because he faced many obstacles in his life,” she said. “There was a fishing spot for the story of Jonah. We had popcorn that was the manna from heaven for the Israelites and a puppet show about Noah.”

 The day of the fair arrived — and so did 38 children. “It was just great. They seemed to come out of the woodwork,” said Dockery.

“There is nothing that we could ever do to truly show Marion Baptist our appreciation for what they helped us do,” said Akers. “It was truly a dream come through for our church. One of our deacons said that it had been a lot of years since Austinville Baptist had seen that much activity.”

And the following Sunday the children’s ministry at Austinville Baptist Church doubled. “We had four new kids and three new adults and the awareness created by people in the community who saw the festival or read about it on Facebook has been great,” said Akers.

“I hope we can continue our partnership with Marion Baptist Church. As a bivocational pastor I’m stretched pretty thin at times and it was great to have someone with experience to help us get organized. We had people who were ready to do the work and with partners like Marion Baptist we hope to get families around here excited about Jesus.”

Barbara Francis (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) is on the staff of the Religious Herald.