This month our church turned 135 years old. On July 6, 1884, our church held it first service with 17 people in attendance. The initial meeting was held in the Presbyterian Church. RJ Latour, an ordained minister from Rock Port served as the first pastor from 1884-1885. The church met on the first Saturday and Sunday of each month.
By 1887, the services were held in the second story of Woodman’s Hall (later called the Fairfax Locker Plant), and then in the Fairfax Methodist Church. In June 1890, the church dedicated its new building where it met until 1954. In 1917, a basement was added to the building among other remodeling. Unfortunately, due to a fire, all of the church records to that date were lost.
In the 1920s, revivals and bake sales took place, but a major addition happened in 1928 when electricity was added to the church. The years of 1936-1938 were called “some of [the church’s] hardest years.” It was nearly impossible to raise money for a pastor, “but the spirit of the church would not let it close.” Sunday School and short devotionals took place on Sunday mornings and otherwise, it appears the church did not meet. However, the first Vacation Bible School was started in 1938 and the church was repainted in and rededicated in 1939.
In 1946, a building fund was started with the intent of constructing the building we sit in today. Kenneth Israel became pastor. He was the 25th pastor in the church’s history, and his 6 years tied for the longest tenure to that point (with TJ Puckett, who served from 1910-1916). To date, only Clyde Hendricks, Don Momberg, and myself have served longer.
In the 1950s, the land for the current church was purchased for $1,500, and ground was broken in October of 1953. The first worship service was held in the basement in May 1954, and in January 1955 cornerstones were laid as part of devotional service led by Reverend Ralph Holland, including one which is inscribed, “For Christ and His Church.” The first worship service in the sanctuary was held on November 20, 1955 with 250 in attendance. The old church building and grounds was sold to the hospital in 1956 for $1,000. Reverend Mulvaney became pastor in May 1957. Doyne Swan was ordained as deacon in 1958.
The 1960s saw the beginning of the 60+ banquet, the purchase of the church parking lot (for $1,239.45), the establishment of the church library. Jim Carey (1965-1968) and Clyde Hendricks (1968-1980) were called as pastors. In 1968, the church burned the mortgage note on the building, and was able to obtain the deed for the old parsonage in order to sell it. Then, in October 1969, the building of the new parsonage began. But a major development in the summer of 1969 was the installation of air conditioning the upstairs of this church!
In 1970, the Hendricks moved into the parsonage and held an open house in December. The church started a bus ministry in 1973. The two buses – Good News Express 1 and Good News Express 2 – could seat 102 passengers between them. Frank Fain became the youth minister, and later the Associate Pastor. The annex was also purchased in the late 1970s.
Don Momberg became pastor in 1980. In 1982, the current A-frame was put on the front of the church, glass doors replaced the wooden ones, and the west basement steps were rebuilt. In 1983, the church got a new sound system, began a tape-ministry, and re-carpeted the entire upstairs of the church. The furnaces were replaced in 1986 (as we found out two years ago), and a new air conditioner was put in along with extending the kitchen counter to the south. The church basement was coated with the Rally Day funds from Nov 1988.
The 1990s brought the sale of a bus and the purchase of a van. The vision statement, “To Know Christ as Lord” was adopted in 1993 during Wes’s time as pastor. 5th Sunday dinners became a mainstay (if not before). The parsonage got new carpet installed as well as new vinyl for the kitchen and dining room and drapes for the living room. The Fellowship Hall got a new floor in 1997, and the roof of the main building was put on that year as well. Another new sound system was installed. Baccalaureate services began again in 1999 after years of not being held. Several members took mission trips to places like Wyoming and Colorado.
One other point I must make is that our church started two churches – one in Mound City (beginning Dec 1953) and the other in Corning (in Nov 1978).
In the new century, the church updated its Constitution and Bylaws. The church picnic was held annually. Rally Day was discontinued. More mission trips to Wyoming and Tennessee took place. Larry Collins left and Steve Suthill, then Rob Lilly became pastors here. The sanctuary was painted. The church ministered as she had for decades, but a decrease was already happening.
Many will look back on the history of this church with rose-colored glasses, but the reality is that the church has faced many struggles as well. I don’t want to focus on those today, but as we prepare for renewal, two things must be acknowledged.
First, the list of items I have just shared show that the church has had a lot of changes – new ideas, new stuff, new opportunities. But many things like the Rally Days, the Bus Ministry, and others have been lost. Second, we must realistically assess the past.
Without a doubt, the 1970s were a great decade of ministry. During the 5-year period from 1975-1979, the church added 106 people (80 by baptism), and only lost 50 (at least 8 of which were by death). And the Sunday School study on the disciples in 1978 had a huge impact on the numbers with an average of 187 people attending during the three-month study.
In the late 1980s (1984-1989), 31 people joined the church (26 by baptism). 21 people died, but I could not find how many others may have left the church during those years. From 1990 through 1994, 60 people joined (48 by baptism, but 74 left the church (15 by death). And from 1995-2000, 56 people joined the church (39 by baptism), and 55 people left the church (27 of those by death).
So, the church added more, but also lost more than we do today. In fact, the numbers are about even from the 1980s onward. And the average attendance for VBS in 2000 was 67. This year it was about the same.
The reality is that the population of our town has decreased a great deal over the past 10 years and the numbers in our church have as well. The question is, on a percentage basis, are we doing better or worse than the town? See, a church can grow in proportion, even as it declines in numbers. And realistically, I think that we have held even, or maybe a little better.
But a better question is, what do we do from here? We need to determine what God is wanting because if we look around us we will notice that Fairfax has changed. It has certainly changed since this church was founded, since this building was built, and since the turn of the century. But just since 2016, this town has had 76 new residents have water hooked up. Now, I know some of those hookups represent 2 or 3 at the same location, but I also realize that 76 is the number of hookups. And some of those hookups will represent 2, 3, or even 5 people.
Thus, Fairfax is not dead – at least not yet. And therefore, we, as Fairfax Baptist Church, need to renew ourselves, as the church has so many times in the past, to make a new imprint on this town at this time.
And that is why we are having this renewal this week. The focus is not just an individual renewal. It is about a collective renewal. The focus is about evaluating everything we have done over the past 8 years and determine what can be done better, what needs to be discarded, and how to move forward as a church. Those discussions, the How, will begin a week from today during our Sunday evening times.
But beginning tonight, we will be exposed to both the Why and the What of our renewal. The Why is because God is making all things new (Revelation 21.5). That means He is making us new as individuals and as a church. The What is love because Jesus said we are to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength (with each of those items being a focus on each night of the renewal) and to love our neighbor as ourselves (which is how we will become a large church in a small town).
So, as we prepare for our renewal, let us take a moment to remind ourselves of our current GPS (God’s Path for Servants). This might change…again, everything we do (or could do) will be put on the table for evaluation over the coming weeks and months, but for today, these statements should help guide us. So, let’s take time to recite the various components of our GPS with a pause after each item to hear the Scripture read that relates to that item.
To Become A Large Church in a Small Town (Matthew 5.16)
Exalt the Savior (John 12.32)
Equip the Saint (Ephesians 4.11-13)
Evangelize the Sinner (Acts 1.8)
J – Jesus (Matthew 16.18-19) – The One worth following.
O – Observe (Colossians 1.28) – Following the commands of Jesus.
U – Unite (1 Corinthians 1.10) – Being one in fellowship with other believers.
R – Revere (John 12.32) – Worshiping God in all aspects of our lives.
N – Nurture (Ephesians 4.12) – Building up others for the work of ministry.
E – Engage (Acts 1.8) – Stirring the hearts of all people with the Gospel.
Y – You (Matthew 16.15-16) – The one who decides to follow.
Learn – We must first learn. Jesus taught His followers and sent the Holy Spirit to teach us (John 16.13).
Live – As we learn, we must apply what we have learned to our life (Matt. 28.20).
Love – The focus of what Jesus taught was to love God (Mark 12:30), love our neighbor (Mark 12.31), and love one another (John 13.34-35).
Lead – The final commandment Jesus gave His disciples was to make disciples (Matthew 28.18-20, Acts 1.8). Just like Jesus, and just like Paul, we are called to lead others to be followers of Christ (1 Corinthians 11.1; 2 Timothy 2.2).
The last 135 years have certainly had some great moments and some challenges. We cannot change the past, and we cannot live in the past. We can, however, affect our future – individually and collectively. And that is what this week is preparing us to do. We cannot know how many more years God has for this church to serve, but to be effective today, we must make some changes.
What we will not change is the message (the Bible), nor the purpose (“For Christ and His Church”). But to reach a people who have changed in a town that has changed, we need to explore any method that allows us to be the church God wants us to be. And that is why we are beginning this renewal in July of 2019.
Our Next Step this week is simple – come and be a part of the renewal services and then be a part of the renewing that I believe God is going to do upon this church.