After dwindling to 18 members, Leesville Baptist Church in Raleigh found relief after merging with nearby Refuge Church. Read below to see how God has moved in this congregation ever since.
Dennis Berry cannot remember a time in his life without Leesville Baptist Church. As he puts it, he was going there even in his mother’s womb.
“I am 74 years old now,” Berry said. “And God has blessed me and my family for many years on this corner of Leesville.”
Berry’s great-grandfather moved his family to the area in Wake County in 1902, immediately becoming active members of Leesville.
“Growing up, Leesville was the centerpiece of the county, a place for gathering and friendship and worshiping the Lord together,” Berry said.
It’s a legacy Berry is grateful he was able to share with his family — one that could have been lost if not for the merger of two churches and the revitalization that would follow.
Drawing churches together
Like many churches, Leesville experienced the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic. But their problems were exacerbated as they navigated COVID-19 without a pastor.
Down to only 18 active members, the congregation could not afford to provide a full-time pastor; instead, they relied on interim supply pastors, leaving the church without consistent leadership.
As an acting deacon, Berry sought the help and support of Roger Nix, the executive director of the Raleigh Baptist Association at the time.
“He asked if I had heard of Refuge Church,” Berry said.
While Leesville was struggling to fill the pulpit, Refuge Church was looking and praying for a place where their church could meet, flourish and reach the community.
In 2021, Refuge was an 8-year-old church plant without a permanent home. They were still a mobile campus, setting up and tearing down for church each week in a gym at New Life Camp.
In the summer of 2021, Jonathan Brooks, lead pastor of Refuge, received a message.
“Someone from Leesville Baptist shared that they were down to 14 people attending, their facilities were fully paid for, and that we had a lot to talk about if we were interested in merging,” Brooks said.
Over the course of three to four meetings and several weeks of joint services, the conversations about a potential merger became more serious. In May 2022, both churches officially voted to merge into one.
“Coming into it, we felt it would be best for both churches to let go of their names,” Brooks said. “We didn’t want either group to hang onto something from the past. We wanted Christ to be central in all we do, and we wanted to be a church that seeks to love each other well, but we also wanted to honor the legacy of Leesville.”
And so, Christ Fellowship Leesville was formed.
“Refuge was a church who desperately desired to have a building because we felt like there were ministries we could do if we had that, and Leesville had a building but needed leadership and people,” Brooks said. “And we were able to bring those together for the sake of the kingdom … it’s been amazing to see.”
Christ Fellowship doubled in attendance in their first year, and God has brought many young families and a growing diversity to their church body.
“With any merger, the concern is, ‘are we going to feel like one body moving forward or two separate churches in the same room?’” Brooks said. “But because the Lord has brought so many new people, we have more new people than we had as a combined group to start.”
According to Brooks, the entire church has been celebrating a surprising renewal.
“It’s been encouraging to hear the original group from Leesville get excited about what God is doing,” Brooks said. “They hadn’t had a nursery in I don’t know how many years, and this year alone, we’ve had five babies born. There’s a presence of young couples and children.
“For them, to see the room they worshiped in go from 14 people to holding more people than they ever had in their church — it’s pretty overwhelming.”
Drawing the nations
God is not just drawing young families. He is drawing the nations to Christ Fellowship.
Early in the merger process, Christ Fellowship formed an English as a second language (ESL) class to reach the larger community.
Ben Moore, director of missions and outreach, shares that although there were not a lot of students initially, they were able to build relationships and even share the gospel with the mostly Spanish-speaking students who did join. Yet, the church desired to connect with more unreached groups.
Moore recalls going on a prayer walk and asking God for relationships and opportunities to reach these groups. Soon after, he came in contact with a group that was trying to gather Ukrainians in the Triangle to support them during the war. He messaged their Facebook group to see if there was an event he could attend and quickly received a response.
“A lady messaged me and wanted to talk about how our church could help,” Moore said. “She was a person of peace, kind and gracious.”
She helped Moore set up an entire ESL class of Ukrainians at Christ Fellowship.
“The first night of the class, a lady who was not a believer but was seeking God said to one of our volunteers, ‘I would love to read the Bible,’ and we were able to start a Bible study with a family of believers and some others that were not,” Moore said. “It’s been super encouraging seeing how simple Bible stories are helping people make connections to the whole story of turning to Christ.”
Although not everyone who attends an ESL class comes to Christ Fellowship’s Sunday services, the church continues to draw in people from all different backgrounds.
“We’re not a big church. We’ll probably have around 75-80 people on a Sunday, and we have people who grew up in Mexico, Peru, India, Taiwan, China, Philippines and Spain,” Moore said. They’ve all come since the merger.
“We are thankful that whether unifying Christians or drawing lost people to himself, God is really over the work. He’s worked on a lot of people’s hearts to set aside preferences, and it’s been a good witness to the community.”
Leesville Baptist would have celebrated 150 years next year. Now, in 2024, Christ Fellowship Leesville will celebrate its second anniversary instead.
Berry says it best: “It wasn’t our church. It was Christ’s church.”
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