Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Back to basics for First Baptist
By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
Bucking what might be a national trend towards flashier or multi-media services, Iola’s First Baptist Church is staying traditional — and seeing growth because of it.
“When I came we were averaging 90 in worship” on Sundays, said Pastor Mike Quinn, who has been at the church a bit over two years. “In the past six months, we’ve averaged 120. I think we’re growing because we’re reaching out,” Quinn said.
The church has a focus group, “God Rewards Our Work,” that devotes Tuesday evenings to home visits, letter writing and phone calls to former members, visitors or those recommended by congregants.
The church also implemented a Southern Baptist Convention program, “God’s Plan of Sharing” during last Easter season, wherein each parishioner was to spread the word of God through their daily lives. As a part of that, Quinn said, “we walked through the community and we prayed at each house as we went by.”
Quinn said church members didn’t know the residents of the homes they passed, but merely offered prayer for whatever needs those inside each dwelling might have. Then, “we hung door hangers with a gospel presentation” — a Scripture verse, Quinn explained — and an invitation to church. About 1,000 hangers were left on doors around Iola, he said.
On Easter Sunday, almost 230 people attended services, Quinn said.
“Another thing we’ve tried to do is reach into the college,” Quinn noted. “We’re working with Campus Crusade for Christ ministry,” he said. Also, the church “started a new Sunday school class for college-age kids,” Quinn said. That meets at 9:30 a.m. at the church at 801 N. Cottonwood, along with its other classes broken into age groups including preschoolers, adults and senior citizens.
First Baptist does some promotion of the class on the campus at Allen County Community College, Quinn said.
“It’s really the 40 to 50 years olds that we’re shortest on,” Quinn’s wife, Becky, said.
Becky Quinn works as the church secretary and keeps track of attendance.
“We’re reaching all age groups,” though, she noted, with the greatest attendance in the 55-and-up range. Children and 18- to 34-year-olds also boast high attendance numbers. Youth in grades seven to 12 attend only slightly less.
That troubling middle-aged group is six to seven times smaller than the others, though, she said.
Neither Quinn could explain why, unless it had to do with commitment to family, they said.
“I don’t think churches should expect young families to be very involved in running the church” Becky Quinn said. At that age, she said, “Your children are your biggest ministry.”
MIKE QUINN entered the ministry in 1986. His family was never very religious, he said.
When “in 1983 I left to go to seminary, I didn’t know the Bible or anything like that,” he said.
It was a series of deaths that led Quinn away from — and back to — God.
Before his conversion, Quinn’s only experience with church came through a friend.
“His mom would take us to Vacation Bible School,” Quinn said. “But he was killed at 15 and I turned hard toward the things of God.”
Quinn’s father was not a man of God. Instead of church, the family would go fishing on Sundays.
He was hard-working, hard-drinking, Quinn said. “He was a big guy, rough and tough. I idolized my dad. Growing up, I wanted to be just like him.”
And so, more or less, Quinn was.
Quinn worked construction at the Callaway County Nuclear Power Plant in Missouri.
“We drank every day after work,” Quinn noted. Then, in the course of 1 1/2 years when Quinn was in his mid-20s, he lost four of his best friends.
“Two were shot and killed in a bar in Jefferson City, Mo., one drowned in a pond and one burned to death in a house fire,” Quinn said.
The loss was shaking.
“I looked around. There wasn’t anybody left but me in that group.”
About that time, he said, “there was a pastor who moved into our community. He started visiting with me and I didn’t want anything to do with him.”
Quinn would hide in the closet, he said, and wait until his wife told him the man had gone.
“Just about every time something happened, he’d show up — and he didn’t know about it,” Quinn noted.
The coincidence got to be too much for Quinn.
“It caused me to think about death and if there is life after death, where would I end up? I knew I wasn’t right with God.”
Quinn spoke to the man.
“He shared how God forgives your sins and it didn’t matter what you’d done.”
“I didn’t see lightning or hear voices,” he said. But he was changed.
“The next night was Friday night and after work we stopped to get our liquor and I got a Pepsi,” Quinn noted.
His fellow workers made fun of him.
“They asked me what happened and I told them a preacher stopped by and I accepted Christ and that I didn’t think God wanted me to drink anymore. They said it would never stick.”
That was 1980. Quinn hasn’t had any alcohol since.
Shortly thereafter, Quinn said, his father threw him a birthday bash. He pressured Quinn to drink. Quinn went inside and told his wife to pray.
About six months later, his father, too, accepted Christ.
His son’s refusal to drink affected him, Quinn said. “He told me, ‘Whatever you’d gotten, I needed it.’”
QUINN’S CHURCH offers a Wednesday evening program, TeamKid, that pulls in children like he was, he said.
“We’ve got kids whose families are not members here.” Many don’t attend church at all, he said.
The program attracts students from kindergarten through grade 12, he said.
“I think for the most part (they attend) because it’s Christ-based,” he said of the program.
“Iola is more conservative” than Quinn’s hometown between Jefferson City and Columbia, Mo., “but as a rule there’s a vast loss and spiritual darkness — not only here, but everywhere,” Quinn said. “I see that as a major concern as a pastor.”
Although church attendance surged post 9/11, Quinn doesn’t “think it lasted very long. Things just went back to where they were.”
Quinn believes the role of the pastor is “to get Christ to people. It’s the gospel that changes lives and transforms lives.”
To that end, he is exploring additional outreach opportunities.
“We’ve thought about doing a discipleship class on financial planning or parenting or marriage strengthening,” Becky said. Plans for a six-to-eight week Sunday evening program are tentative right now, she said, but in the works.
“I think typically across the board people are doing away with Sunday night services because people just don’t come back for them,” Mike said. A Sunday evening class would draw a different crowd, the Quinns believe.
“It’s just finding someone to lead who is capable of doing that,” she said.
As for the Wednesday night kids program, “We keep the youth group up all summer,” Mike said. And, “We have a gym; that’s a nice draw for the kids.”
Other venues of participation open at First Baptist are music worship teams, monthly potluck suppers, ministry teams that visit the sick, homebound and those in nursing homes, and an evangelism/mission team that deals with mission projects and spending of church funds, Quinn said. “The goal is to get everybody involved in some sort of ministry,” Quinn said.
As a pastor, Quinn listens to congregants, he said.
“They have ideas and I have ideas and we bounce them off each other. I believe if we do a few things and do them well, they please the Lord.”
Each day, Quinn spends about an hour studying the Bible, then does additional research for a total of 15 to 20 hours per week prep time for his Sunday sermon, he said.
“I look online to get illustrations” and use “books that inspire me or preach through a book of the Bible,” Quinn said.
“The Bible talks about getting the whole council of God. That makes me deal with passages that are harder. I try to take it in its historical and grammatical context and see how we can apply that to today — what’s it really saying — then and to us? And now that we’ve heard it, what are we going to do with it” Quinn asked.
Quinn said his greatest role is to facillitate the healing of families.
“It’s not what I do; it’s what He does,” Quinn said.