HYDEN, Ky. (KT) - Rockhouse Baptist Church was close to shuttering its doors before a renewed passion for evangelism took hold.
The rural church located three miles outside of Hyden had dwindled to about 25 people. Then, Pastor Tyler Shields moved into town, bringing with him a passion for introducing others to Christ and triggering a dramatic turnaround.
That turnaround was on full display on Sept. 3 when Shields baptized 20 people in the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River during a Sunday morning worship service.
Shields knew Rockhouse could be righted if the congregation would get involved in personal evangelism - telling their relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, everyone about Jesus. They were willing, and the church blossomed.
The Rockhouse story was only one of the many threads woven into the tapestry of Baptist life in 2017. Kentucky Today chronicled those uplifting tales, and here are a few of them:
Big church, tiny community
Pastor and farmer Ricky Cunningham has applied the same commonsense agricultural principles used to produce crops and livestock to grow Hardin Baptist Church to 2,500 total members over the past three decades.
In his rural community of 564 people, there are no chain restaurants or strip malls or housing developments. Yet, a congregation approaching megachurch proportions has sprung forth.
Cunningham said the Lord taught him to be a pastor through farming.
"It's obvious to farmers that there's a direct correlation between sowing and harvesting," he said. "If you skimp on planting, it's going to affect you in the harvest. If we're going to win souls for Christ, we really have to be sowing gospel seeds."
Cunningham realized he couldn't be the only one doing the work if the region was to be reached for Christ.
"The question occurred to me: What if everyone in the church is sowing seeds?" he said.
That approach to ministry has allowed Cunningham to experience life as pastor of a small church, a medium church, a large church without ever leaving Hardin.
"Isn't God good," Cunningham said. "I was amazed when we got to 100 people. I was amazed when we got 200. I was amazed when we got 500. I was amazed when we got 1,000. I am just amazed at what the Lord has done."
Mythbusting pastor triples attendance
A Louisville pastor busted a longstanding myth in the church world that door-to-door visitation is out of vogue and no longer effective.
Since becoming the pastor of Highview Baptist Church's Valley Station, Mark Bishop has baptized more than 40 new believers since becoming the pastor of campus earlier this year and send church attendance tripled to nearly 300.
Bishop attributes growth to leading members in going door-to-door inviting neighbors to church and talking to strangers about Jesus.
"I think soul winning is easier caught than taught," said Bishop. "When they see it working it becomes contagious."
Bishop led Kentucky Baptists from across the state in "front door evangelism," knocking on doors and telling Louisville residents about Jesus prior to the Kentucky Baptist Convention's annual meeting on Nov. 14 at Highview Baptist Church's east campus.
Connecting athletes to Jesus on their turf
A Williamsburg pastor was instrumental in 30 University of the Cumberland 30 athletes experiencing the greatest victory of their lives.
Main Street Baptist Church Pastor Donnie Patrick began serving as chaplain to the Patriot football team in May. Shortly after arriving back in his hometown, he encountered a group of young men with hearts open to the gospel.
Since then, the number of football players accepting Christ has continued to grow, including 11 who made decisions during a single team worship service in August.
"I've got a front row seat to watch God at work," Patrick said.
Along with the salvation decisions, the pastor said four athletes have indicated an interest in full-time ministry.
Kentucky Baptist churches report 13,681 baptisms
The Kentucky Baptist Convention's annual report of baptisms revealed that 13,681 people followed Christ in the act of obedience last year, down 675 from the 14,356 reported in 2015.
The actual number of baptisms could have been significantly higher than reported because close to 20 percent of Kentucky Baptist churches didn't participate in the annual count.
Hillvue Heights Church in Bowling Green led the state again last year with 505 baptisms, followed by The Creek in London with 232, His House Ministries in Mayfield with 126, Chin Mission Church in Bowling Green with 113, and Crossland Community Church in Bowling Green with 96.
The Warren Association of Baptists, based in Bowling Green, reported 1,213 baptisms, the highest number of any association in 2016. It was followed by the Louisville Regional Baptist Association with 846, Central Kentucky Network of Baptists with 589, and Daviess-McClean Baptist Association with 433.
The latest additions bring the total number of baptisms to 183,059 since 2005.
Western Kentuckian elected KBC president
Messengers to the Kentucky Baptist Convention's annual meeting chose Charles Frazier, pastor of Zion's Cause Baptist Church in Benton, for their top-elected position.
At the February meeting in Louisville, Frazier said he will seek to encourage church leaders in the state to stand firm for biblical truth and continue fostering unity among churches.
"Working together as one, we can accomplish much for Kentucky Baptists, and for the Kingdom of God," he said.
Frazier also is a champion for the Cooperative Program, described by church leaders as the greatest evangelistic initiative of our day. He said he supports the Southern Baptist Convention's "One Percent Challenge," which encourages congregations to increase their CP giving by 1 percent in a budget year.
Frazier has served at Zion's Cause for the past 12 years and in KBC leadership roles for more than two decades. He currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Frazier received his bachelor's degree in biblical studies from Mid-Continent University and master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees from the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.
Charles Barnes receives CP Leadership Award
Charles Barnes, a life-long Kentucky Baptist who has been involved in the organization's top levels of leadership for decades, received the Cooperative Program Leadership Award from the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
"Charles Barnes may be the strongest lay advocate for the cooperative mission work of Kentucky Baptists I've ever met," said KBC Executive Director Paul Chitwood, who presented the award in November.
Barnes, a graduate of Oneida Baptist Institute, has been involved in leadership roles within the Kentucky Baptist Convention. He was president in 1998 and 1999. He has served multiple terms on the Mission Board, including as chairman of the Administrative Committee and the Business and Finance Committee.
Barnes is a past president of the Kentucky Baptist Foundation and also served as its interim chief executive. In all, he has served on the foundation's board of directors for more than 20 years, and has been its chairman several times.
For 16 years, Barnes was a trustee of Cumberland College, now the University of the Cumberlands. He was director of the Southern Seminary Foundation from 1988 through 2015, including two terms as chairman. He was a trustee of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1992 through 2005 and chairman of its Financial Board from 1993 through 2005.
Barnes is a member of Hurstbourne Baptist Church in Louisville.
Bevin taps Dan Dumas as state adoption czar
Gov. Matt Bevin appointed Daniel Dumas, former senior vice president at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, to oversee efforts to revamp the state's adoption and foster care system.
"There is no reason a child in Kentucky, who is ready to be adopted, should be without a family," Bevin said. "We have to rethink the way we do foster care in this state, and Dan Dumas is just the visionary to help lead that charge. "
The state's faith community welcomed news of Dumas' appointment.
"I am thrilled that Gov. Bevin has appointed a Kentucky Baptist to this strategic leadership role and even more excited that the appointee is Dan Dumas," said Paul Chitwood, executive director of the 750,000-member Kentucky Baptist Convention. "I have known Dan since his arrival at Southern Seminary and have appreciated the orphan care modeled by his own family and through his church. We all know the safety net for Kentucky's abused and neglected kids is horribly broken. Dan is uniquely qualified to lead the repair efforts."
Dumas, an author and professor of Christian ministry and leadership, also has prior experience in strategic consulting and leadership coaching.
"I am resolved to make our adoption and foster care system faster, safer, more affordable, and more accessible," Dumas said in a statement. "Gov. Bevin and I are committed, along with many other Kentuckians, to not back down until every orphan in Kentucky has a loving home."
Kentucky Baptist serenades inaugural crowds in D.C.
Paintsville resident Marlana VanHoose was among the performers who took part in the Voices of the People concert on Thursday as part of the festivities marking the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
It was the Kentucky Baptist's biggest stage to date, although the petite young lady has performed the national anthem before tens of thousands of fans at sports venues including Rupp Arena, as well as NBA and NFL games, plus NASCAR Sprint Cup races. Probably her biggest political event until this year, was singing at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, in July 2016.
"I always tell people to never give up and always dream big," VanHoose said. "I was born blind, but it doesn't stop me. God has blessed me beyond measure in every part of my life."
Her mother, Teresa VanHoose, said not even cerebral palsy, which limits her mobility and the amount of time she can stand on her feet without pain, can keep her down. "I have the Holy Spirit, and He takes care of me every single day," she said.
Her mother said VanHoose has a special anointing from God to be able to do what she does.
"My big dream is to travel all over the world and inspire people and encourage people and lead them to Jesus," VanHoose said, "because people need help."