People say if you live in the North Carolina mountains, they’ll always call you back.
For Michael Childers, that’s pretty much what happened. Except it was God who called him back, not the hills, he says.
Drive to Brevard over in western North Carolina, and then head out of town toward the nearest highlands. You’ll soon come to See Off Mountain.
That’s where Childers grew up. He was actually born in Florida, but his family moved up to See Off Mountain before he was a year old. That was home. Sometimes when he talks, you can hear mountain twang season his words.
Like many young people in the mountains, Childers spent a lot of his youth wanting to be somewhere else. But he stayed on.
When he was 17, he became an electrical contractor. He and a partner opened a business. Later he married his wife, Cheryl, and she joined him in wanting to leave See Off. As the company prospered, they finally were able to move to another town nearby.
Then, just a while back, God called Childers to ministry.
That electrical company he had worked so hard to build? He sold it to his partner and walked away.
Childers enrolled in Fruitland Baptist Bible College, just a few mountains away in Hendersonville, and soon grew to love and respect the school and its teachers.
Childers graduated in September 2020.
Fruitland is owned and operated by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and supported through the Cooperative Program giving of North Carolina Baptists.
The Childers were members of First Baptist Church of Brevard. Jeff Maynard, their missions-minded pastor, pointed out area communities needing new churches to reach people for Christ.
One of those communities was — you guessed it — See Off Mountain.
Maynard and others began looking for a place for a new church to be planted. Meanwhile, Maynard and Childers visited lay leaders of Dunn’s Creek Baptist Church, whose very nice building sits near the top of See Off.
But it was a church in decline with only about a dozen members remaining.
“We need to love God and love people. If we don’t love the people, we cannot share the gospel.” — Michael Childers
Declining church reborn
Could Maynard and Childers do anything to help the church?
That discussion resulted in a major change for the congregation. They decided they would stop being Dunn’s Creek Baptist and begin a second chapter as a new church plant.
It would be The Church at See Off. And Michael Childers would be the pastor.
The joy the Childers had felt earlier at leaving the mountain became a call to return. Childers says his wife felt it too.
“God did a work in both of us,” he says.
The Baptist state convention’s Church Planting team provided financial help and coaching, both possible because N.C. Baptists support missions through the Cooperative Program and the North Carolina Missions Offering.
Once they began to hold services, attendance grew. God used Childers, the former electrician, to spark new life into what had been a declining congregation.
Childers put their services and Bible studies online, attracting hundreds of people he says he will not likely reach any other way.
A different mountain now
See Off Mountain is not the same place it was 40 years ago, Childers says. The population is growing, and many newcomers are flocking to live in the mountains near Brevard.
“It’s a very diverse population,” Childrens says. “Some are rich and some are poor. People have the idea that Brevard is only for retired people, but actually there’s a growing segment of younger families moving into our area.”
Few of the newcomers know Christ. In fact, two pockets of lostness are within a few minutes drive from the church. These are areas identified by Baptist state convention leaders as places where there’s a concentration of people who do not know Jesus.
Childers calls himself a mountain man by way of background. But he is firmly leading the new church to be open to anyone who wants to follow Jesus. And that means changing some time-honored traditions held by many mountain churches.
“We need to love God and love people,” he says simply. “If we don’t love the people, we cannot share the gospel. We must be willing to meet people where they are.”
Childers talks of visiting one nearby community with decidedly un-Christian views and lifestyles. Childers knows he must talk to people like that if he’s going to tell them about Jesus.
That’s why Childers has shed the suit and tie preferred by most mountain pastors. Around town and even on Sundays, he is more likely to be seen in jeans and an untucked shirt.
“Hey, I like to dress up,” Childers jokes. “I look pretty good in a suit — at least that’s what my wife tells me!”
But his voice turns serious when he explains, “It’s hard to reach a 25- to 30-year-old man who works six days a week and is barely scraping by. He may have the idea if he does not wear a suit, he can’t come to church.”
Things like dress-up clothes are barriers that need to be broken down, he says.
Childers says attendance dropped after the coronavirus pandemic set in earlier this year. But he is confident The Church at See Off will begin growing again as soon as the pandemic winds down.
Childers figures God did not call him back to that mountain to fail, but rather to bring glory to Himself by building a strong new church.
It will surely be a mountaintop experience.
Stay connected by signing up for the N.C. Baptist monthly newsletter.