HYDEN, Ky. – Not so long ago, Rockhouse Baptist Church was floundering.
The congregation had dwindled to about 25 people, and some wondered how much longer they could keep the doors open.
Then Pastor Tyler Shields moved into town, bringing with him a passion for introducing others to Christ. And Rockhouse experienced a dramatic turnaround.
That turnaround was on full display Sunday morning when Shields gathered with more than 100 from his church to baptize new believers in the chilly waters of the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River. By the time the ceremony concluded, Shields had immersed 20 people into the stream as his congregation cheered.
“The church was basically broken,” Shields said, recalling his initial visit two years ago to the rural church about three miles outside of Hyden, population 300. “And the people who were still there were willing to do whatever it took to get it going again.”
Shields, a chaplain for the Kentucky National Guard, knew the church 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.
“Tyler Shields is an evangelistic leader,” said Todd Gray, head of the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s evangelism team. “Generally speaking, when it comes to evangelism, as goes the pastor so goes the church. If that is the case, then Rockhouse will continue to reach people with the gospel."
Gray first met Shields at an evangelism training conference in Pikeville. Don McCutcheon, former evangelism director with the Florida and North Carolina Baptist conventions, reminded pastors that introducing people to Jesus isn’t complicated.
In fact, McCutcheon said it should come naturally to every believer.
Frank Collett, one of the new believers baptized on Sunday, agreed wholeheartedly with that. He has already been going to his friends and family to tell them about Jesus. Some seemed surprised, he said, to learn that he is now a Christian.
“They just can’t believe it,” Collett said, standing on the banks of the Middle Fork, his clothes still wet from his baptism. “I was going the wrong way in life before I met Jesus.”
McCutheon, in his training sessions, reminds pastors that evangelism “is simply one person telling another person about the greatest person – Jesus Christ.”
Shields said Rockhouse’s turnaround is proof that one-on-one evangelism is the key to church growth.
The Kentucky Baptist Convention, under the leadership of Executive Director Paul Chitwood, has been helping churches to focus on reaching people through evangelism, promoting ethnic diversity, starting new congregations, and helping to revitalize older churches, like Rockhouse.
In the evangelism training Shields attended, McCutcheon called on Kentucky Baptists to make a commitment to intentionally visit people who don’t know Jesus. He encouraged pastors and church staff to set the example for their church members by scheduling specific times into their weekly calendars to go out and share the gospel and to mentor others to do the same.
Every Christian should develop a list of lost people to pray for, to build relationships with, and, ultimately, to introduce to Jesus, McCutcheon said.
Paul Badgett, a regional consultant for the Kentucky Baptist Convention in the mountain region, said pastors who follow those basic steps will see their churches revitalized.
“A church can rise no higher than its leadership,” Badgett said. “We need pastors who defend the faith, teach the saved, but also win the lost.”