Johnston County used to be rural — parts of it still are.
But drive out Highway 42 from Clayton and you’ll pass miles of new houses, stores and restaurants under construction. New businesses open nearly every week. Farm land is being consumed by what’s commonly called “rapid growth.”
Many new residents are in their 30s. There are many young families and people from many ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Some residents will drive to Raleigh to work every day. But many will work at the pharmaceutical plant, tractor facility or other plants that have been built here.
Much of this picture anyone can see just by driving around. But other factors take a different kind of vision — the Christian missions kind of seeing.
An unseen pocket of lostness
Few of the people moving to this part of the county are involved in any church. In fact, this area is one of the top 100 “pockets of lostness” that have been identified by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC).
That means there are many lost people needing to hear the gospel. And the best way to share the gospel long term and impact a community is by planting new churches.
Leaders of Hephzibah Baptist Church in Wendell share the Baptist state convention’s missions vision — and they wanted to do something about that pocket of lostness so close to their own front door. So they decided to partner with the state convention in planting a new church. Planning started in mid-2019.
The BSCNC’s Church Planting team provided coaching and financial support, using staff and funding provided by N.C. Baptists through the Cooperative Program and the North Carolina Missions Offering.
The best way to share the gospel long term and impact a community is by planting new churches.
A big contribution
Hephzibah also made a big contribution. The long-established congregation decided that they would be the sending church by providing people and resources to get the new congregation started.
Hephzibah sent 20 families — more than 80 people in all — to help plant the new church. These families did not have to move. They already lived in this part of Johnston County and drove in to attend Hephzibah Baptist in Wendell.
When they looked for a leader, they quickly settled on Jason Brulet (pronounced broo-LAY), youth pastor at Hephzibah for more than six years. Brulet, his wife, Valerie, and their kids were even a pretty good match for the new area’s typical families.
Brulet grew up in Greenville, N.C., and got a degree in how to be an entrepreneur in business at East Carolina University. He sold lumber in Myrtle Beach, S.C., before the Lord called him into ministry and on to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest.
Brulet’s service as a lay leader at Hephzibah led to him being called as youth pastor.
“It was one of the best growing experiences I’ve ever had,” he says of Hephzibah.
Looking back, Brulet now sees that God was using his sales experience, college student ministry and other work he has done to prepare him to plant a new church.
Shine Community Church
That new church, called Shine Community Church, roared into life the last Sunday in January 2020 — 367 people attended the launch service and attendance averaged 260 for the first six weeks. In church planting ministry, that’s a huge success.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck with its quarantine and massive disruption to life. So as soon as possible, the new church began holding services outside.
Even in the heat of August, the church held outdoor worship services at the event facility they rent for services. They met on the back lawn that slopes down to a pond and a stand of trees.
Members gathered as families under canvas patio covers — separated from other groups because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“These blessed people are willing to endure the heat,” Brulet said, shaking his head with admiration.
The church has now resumed indoor services while practicing social distancing and other protective measures.
Like other pastors, Brulet is eager for the state to get beyond the coronavirus pandemic so he can focus more on getting the new church up and going. He points to a nearby lot where a new elementary school will be constructed — a sure sign of more new people coming to the area.
Brulet’s business training once focused his attention on investing money to make more money. Now he’s focused on investing for rewards that will last into eternity.
He prefers that gospel-focused kind of profit.