I tagged along with Lou Ann recently to a funeral at First Baptist Church on Fifth Street in Winston-Salem. It was a combination of factors that inspired me to arise at 5:15 on a Saturday morning, forego my no-shave Saturday tradition, get all spiffed up, and drive 3 ½ hours one way. First, I thought Lou Ann would like some company as well as a chauffeur. Second, the funeral was for Dr. Roy J. Smith – a well-respected North Carolina Baptist leader. And, finally, I had read about recent happenings at First Baptist on Fifth and I was curious about the church.
Under the pastoral leadership of Emily Hull McGee, First on Fifth recently tore down two large buildings that were a part of their campus. These buildings housed, among other things, a child care center and a basketball court. In its heyday, First on Fifth had over 2000 members. Today, the church has around 500 members with a weekly worship attendance of around 220. Due to the decline in membership, the congregation can no longer afford to maintain the two buildings. In an article from the July 8, 2018 edition of the Winston-Salem Journal, McGee says that congregation has been led by God to downsize to remain a gospel light in downtown Winston-Salem during a time when more people are moving to the area yet fewer and fewer people are actively attending a church anywhere.
The situation with First Baptist Church of Winston-Salem on Fifth Street causes me pause when I ponder the future of First Baptist Church of Ahoskie on Main Street. There are so many good happenings in our church currently. The North Street house is now used to provide shelter for woman trying to get back on their feet. Beginning November 13th (next week!), we will have Anna and LaCount Anderson in Ahoskie on Tuesdays to assist with our benevolence outreach. Sunday morning worship and Sunday School participation are up. Our finances are stable.
However, we too are a church that is considerably smaller than we were say in the 1960s. And while we too live in a community where fewer and fewer people are actively involved in church, we do not live in a community, such as Winston-Salem, that has a growing population. This is one reason we are so pleased with the number of babies and children in our congregation (yet another baby dedication is on tap for this Sunday!). Nonetheless, a significant percentage of our population consists of senior adults. We know that these folks, many of whom contribute to the backbone of FBC Ahoskie, will not live forever.
Life is good – from my perspective very good – right now at FBC Ahoskie. However, like First on Fifth, we need to be proactive. What will our church look like in a decade? Will the donut hole, that is the first few center rows in our large sanctuary, grow? I want to do everything I can to prevent this! Therefore, as your pastor, I continue to push. My response to the current climate we find ourselves in is to ask more from the membership of FBC Ahoskie. I ask you to pray more for our church. I ask you to give more, both of your finances and your time, to our church. And I ask you to be more faithful in your participation of both Sunday morning worship and Sunday School. Of course, as you raise the level of commitment to your church, you will become a more mature disciple of Jesus the Christ. And, at a more gut level, we know that the future vitality of First Baptist Ahoskie depends on an increased commitment from her members.