ORGAN, N.M. (BP) - With numerous dilapidated buildings and only 323 residents according to the 2010 U.S. census, Organ, N.M., appears on at least one website listing American ghost towns. But Pastor Mitch Newton prefers to think of it as a Holy Ghost town because of the surprising work God has done through the town's Baptist church.
Over the past three years, Faith Christian Fellowship has grown from five worship attendees to more than 25. The congregation has baptized six people over that span, with three more baptisms scheduled for the coming weeks.
On one occasion, a man jumped in the baptistery while his 80-year-old parents were being baptized, professed that he also wanted to be saved and was baptized with them.
"God is so faithful," Newton, 71, told Baptist Press. "... He is doing the whole work. I don't do anything. I just open my mouth" after a week of study and preparation, "and we let the Lord take it from there."
Mining of various minerals drew some 1,500 people to the southern New Mexico community by the mid-1880s, but the mines all closed by the Great Depression. A town renewal occurred when the first nuclear bomb was tested in 1945 at nearby White Sands Missile Range. Yet eventually the community dwindled again to its present size.
Faith Christian Fellowship likewise had a history of dwindling.
When a church of another denomination split in Las Cruces, N.M. -- some 15 miles away -- one of the factions ended up in Organ as Faith Christian Fellowship with about 65 members, meeting in a building owned by the Rio Grande Baptist Association. Faith assumed ownership of the building in 2003 and began cooperating with the association some five years ago -- though with a greatly diminished membership.
Things began to turn around in 2014 when Newton and his wife Ginger accepted a call to Faith, having retired from decades of pastoral ministry in Oregon.
The Newtons launched their ministry with a Fourth of July block party that reached a couple of new families, said James Underwood, director of missions for the Rio Grande Association. In the months that followed, the congregation increased in number and ethnic diversity, reaching Anglos, Hispanics and an African American.
One of the five members remaining at Newton's arrival confessed he didn't have certainty of salvation, placed his faith in Christ and was baptized. Amid teaching of basic Christian doctrines and a steady stream of outreach, the largely senior adult church has even begun to see families and children attending.
"Since Mitch Newton has come as pastor, things have really picked up," Underwood told BP. "We saw the little church begin to blossom and grow and reach people they had never reached before ... [Organ] is an unexpected place for this type of growth."
Underwood added, "It's not like [Faith] invented something new. They have just taken the Gospel and sown the seeds, and it has borne much fruit."
The Baptist New Mexican newsjournal reported Faith has improved its facilities in the midst of its spiritual revitalization. Among the renovations are a new ceiling, new carpet, a new front door and a cupola and bell tower that plays a hymn at noon every day. One room that used to store junk has been converted into a prayer/counseling room and library. Another will be used as children's ministry space.
Baptist New Mexican editor Kevin Parker wrote that Faith demonstrates why churches should never say, "'It's over,' even when a congregation shrinks and members age."
"Yes, some communities die and their churches die along with them," Parker wrote. "But, a more important question arises, 'What does God want?' Church locations may be viable for a new church plant, or for other purposes. God may even want to revitalize a congregation, like in Organ's case."
As for the future, Newton said he "look[s] for continued growth" as he continues "preaching and teaching and loving" the people.
In the near term, that growth looks to include the baptism of a man who was walking by the church one Sunday morning in early March and accepted an invitation to attend worship from Ginger Newton.
"That morning he came down the aisle and asked the Lord into his heart," Mitch Newton said, "and he's been bringing people to visit ever since," including his two sons who also are scheduled for baptism.