When Middlesex Baptist Church dwindled down to about 30 members post-COVID, they weren’t sure how to survive.
Without a pastor, and with low membership, the church had lost its ability to run its programs.
“We felt like God was telling us we need something more than a pastor,” said Tracy Deans, a member of Middlesex Baptist Church who was on the pastor search committee.
The church went to N.C. Baptists for help. After Terry Long, church health and revitalization strategist for N.C. Baptists, and Mike Sowers, a Great Commission catalyst, went to Middlesex to discuss their options, Long and Sowers recommended they complete a self-assessment.
The evaluation showed that Middlesex recognized its need for revitalization.
We want to help you, assist you, pour into you for a year.Aaron Wallace, lead pastor, Hephzibah Baptist Church
Just 12 miles away, Aaron Wallace, lead pastor for Hephzibah Baptist Church, heard about Middlesex’s situation and prayed for the opportunity to help.
“We want to help you, assist you, pour into you for a year,” Wallace told them. “And once you guys have decided on the direction and vision, we’re going to turn it back over completely and … take on a posture of, ‘How do we serve you now?’”
Wallace’s church has a missional sending culture, with a vision to plant 20 churches in the next 20 years. Since 2020, Hephzibah has sent out 120 of its members to plant Shine Community Church in Selma and BridgePoint Church in Knightdale.
Wallace shared why they wanted to help Middlesex next.
“While we could be waiting five or six years and just plant a church in Middlesex, this is such a better story,” Wallace said. “It’s a better story to see the transformation of the gospel even in the hearts of God’s people. We’re praying this is an outstanding witness to the community of what it looks like to be followers of Christ, to be humble and to be transformed and made into something new.”
Shine Community Church, Hephzibah’s church plant, shared their perspective and prayerfully decided to help with Middlesex’s revitalization efforts, too.
When Shine launched three years ago, the church said that they “want[ed] to see kingdom growth,” recalled Jason Brulet, Shine’s lead pastor.
“God has given us an opportunity to put our actions where our mouth is,” Brulet said.
But a revitalization project was a big leap of faith for such a young church.
“This was new territory for Hephzibah and for us,” Brulet said. “We didn’t exactly know what we were walking into — we could just sense that God was in it.”
We didn’t exactly know what we were walking into — we could just sense that God was in it.Jason Brulet, lead pastor, Shine Community Church
While there’s no guarantee a church adoption process will run smoothly, Deans suggested that it helps if the church being adopted has “transparency and the willingness to submit to God.”
This attitude, plus lots of discussions, prayer, face-to-face interactions and a document of understanding, is how Middlesex and Shine partnered with Hephzibah.
Church members began to get to know one another by attending each other’s services. In a divine circumstance, members of Middlesex visited Hephzibah on their mission-oriented Sunday, hearing their heart for spreading the gospel.
On some Wednesday nights, Wallace and a worship leader for Hephzibah led Bible studies at Middlesex, taking time to answer questions from church members. That worship leader has since joined Middlesex.
“I made sure to tell them during those visits it is our intention to give. We don’t want to take anything,” Wallace said. “I think that helped settle hearts.”
Before the churches voted on the adoption, they gathered all the leadership of Hephzibah, Shine Community and Middlesex for a time of fellowship to go over the adoption process and read the document of understanding.
The following Sunday, Hephzibah unanimously voted to adopt Middlesex for the next year with the goal of a long-term partnership. The business meeting ended with a commissioning service for 30 church members — including some staff members — going to help revitalize Middlesex. Additionally, Hephzibah committed to give Middlesex funding to support the revitalization efforts.
“That was just a great moment to say, … ‘Hey, you put your ‘yes’ on the table; the church is behind this. You’ve been sent out,’” said John Wilson, associate pastor at Hephzibah Baptist.
“It doesn’t make it easy to let go of people … [or] resources, to say goodbye to friends and to know that they’re going to be fellowshipping at a different place. But ultimately, this congregation has learned to think about the kingdom as something bigger than themselves or this campus … and to plant gospel seeds in other places so that we can see them grow.”
In addition, Shine agreed to adopt Middlesex and sent one family of four to join the church. The church plant also gave additional funds to help Middlesex pay for a full-time pastor’s salary and additional revitalization needs.
“We’ve seen that when [God has] blessed us and entrusted people and resources with us, that if we’re open to invest them where He tells us to, that He’s the one that bears the fruit and gets the ultimate glory,” Brulet said.
Just one week after the vote and commissioning service, 76 people gathered at Middlesex to start the partnership between Hephzibah, Shine Community and Middlesex. In the following weeks, some young families have visited the church, giving it new life and creating a need for children’s ministry.
“As we venture into this, we want to see what happens here multiply,” Wallace said. “We’d love to see other churches revitalized … My goal is they become so healthy that they begin to plant churches, and together we can meet those goals of churches planted in this area.”
by Lizzy Haseltine, N.C. Baptist contributing writer