HAYNESVILLE -- It might be surprising that one of the fastest growing churches in Houston County is in south Houston County.
Its the First Baptist Church of Haynesville.
Longtime Middle Georgians may not even know, but Haynesville is on U.S. 341 southeast of Perry about halfway to Hawkinsville.
First Baptist Haynesvilles distinction isnt only its growth. Its also the oldest Southern Baptist church in the county, having been organized in 1824.
It still amazes me what God has done here in the last few years, said Rev. David Fisher, pastor. Were in a wonderful place, but not the place you think of when you think about a growing Houston County. My first sermon here was in 1993, and we had 65 people in the congregation. Today, we have about 350 on an average Sunday.
Fisher attributes the growth to two things. Instead of people moving out, people started moving back into the south end. Frito-Lay workers came, Perdue Farms workers, Robins Air Force Base workers and others who just wanted wide-open space away from the countys north.
But Fisher thinks theres a bigger reason.
Its just the Lords timing, he said. Im not a young man, Im 68, but despite me and my age God is blessing us. In fact, 2011 was our best year. We added 78 new members. Its Gods doing, his grace.
Fisher, who is from Abbeville and has pastored in Pope City and Fitzgerald, said when he came to Haynesville both he and the church had been through difficult times and knew lifes hurts. He said that and a growing understanding of Gods goodness helped them build a church of love and grace.
I hate labels, but youd have to say were a traditional, conservative Southern Baptist church, and Im a coat and tie sort of preacher who keeps to the standards of the Bible, he said. Haynesville Baptist might not be for everybody, and thats why there are all kinds of churches out there, but youll never find a more loving church or a wider cross section of people. We accept people. It doesnt make any difference about color, social level, education or whats happened in their life -- our doors are open wide and people here have big hearts. They want to see Gods love at work. Thats whats behind the ministry.
Fisher said ministry to families is important to the church and that theres the usual range of ministries for different groups and age levels. One outreach he said he is particularly pleased to have brought to the church is its GROW (God Rewards Our Work) ministry.
Through GROW, Fisher said about 75 participants rotate week to week and meet at the church to share a meal, then go visit people in the community. They may be people who have visited the church or be homebound church members; they may be people who are sick or have other needs. Whatever the case, Fisher said church members are committed to going out and being a blessing to others.
Another aspect of the ministry involves letter writing. Fisher said a group gets together to simply write letters to the same sort of people who get visits, but also includes anyone they have heard of who has lost a loved one, had a baby or may be going through some difficult or joyful circumstance.
Its not a trick or gimmick, Fisher said. Its a sincere effort to relate to people and be with them where they are because weve been there. Whether its dysfunctional families or people with addictions or other problems, we know the hurts and we know God heals the hurts. I think thats the main reason God has his hand on this church. We reach out to whoever. Weve gotten bigger -- and now were considered more of a regional church because people come here from Warner Robins and Perry, Hawkinsville and even Macon -- but the heart and real ministry of this church hasnt changed.
Contact Michael W. Pannell at email@example.com.