WARNER ROBINS -- Oakland Baptist Church was started in February 1924 on a lot lined with oak trees along what was then Watson Road, now renamed Russell Parkway.
Mike Winfree, who became the church’s pastor in 2010, said the 89-year-old fellowship began as an outreach of Hattie Baptist Church, which is now First Baptist Church of Centerville.
“The first service was in an abandoned school house on the same property here,” Winfree said. “In those days it was a one-room church with services once a month. It was in 1954 the church started as a full-time ministry with services each Sunday. A.L. Caldwell was the first pastor at that time, and I’m the 17th.”
Winfree is originally from Greensboro, N.C., where he was in the remodeling and repair business before being called into the ministry. He served as associate pastor at Hunter Hills Baptist Church in Greensboro before coming to Warner Robins in 1993 as an associate pastor at Green Acres Baptist Church. He served there for 17 years before being called to Oakland Baptist.
He and his wife, Jane, have three daughters.
“Oakland Baptist has many of the usual ministries important to churches as a whole,”Winfree said. “Churches that have done away with some of them are going downhill, and those sticking by them are doing well. For instance, I’m a real believer in Sunday school even if you don’t call it that. You can call it small groups or another type of group, but you need groups where people come together and relate. We have a thriving, age-graded Sunday school program and have grown 27 percent over the time I’ve been here. I cut my teeth on Sunday school and believe it’s important.”
Winfree said Oakland Baptist has started an AWANA program for children, a puppet ministry and has an Easter egg hunt each year that children enjoy.
He said another ministry he’s impressed with that has brought members together in service and helped the church grow is the GROW ministry.
“It stands for God Rewards Our Work and it’s an outreach ministry that includes more people than any other in our church,” Winfree said. “It involves about 60 adults and is a big factor in how we bring people inside the doors of our church. It gets people involved in various ways like prayer, letter writing, phone calls and visiting.”
Winfree said the church also puts on a live nativity scene each year at Christmas. He said the nativity scene began in 1978, took a break at one period for 13 years, and started back in 2006. He said the nativity barn is convertible to an Easter tomb scene that’s used for Oakland’s 30-minute sunrise service which is March 31 at 7 a.m. this year.
As far as his own preaching and teaching ministry, Winfree said he’s committed to the expositional teaching.
“The Bible says we’re to teach the whole council of God, so if you just teach or preach topically you’re typically preaching subjects you like. Teaching through an entire book of the Bible allows you to cover topics that may not be comfortable for you, but you end up giving everybody all of God’s word. That’s important. We’ve just begun the book of Revelation. I think we’re in the last days whether that means one day, a year or 10 or more years. I just know we’re closer than we’ve ever been.”
Winfree said when he first came to Oakland Baptist in 2010 he began by getting to know people and evaluating ministries. He said it takes both in order to not bring change too quickly. He said change can simply come from working to shore up the foundations of ministries and making sure they’re needed and are strong.
“After doing all that, when things are up and running, the next thing is to cast a vision,” he said. “We word our mission this way: Worship, Witness, Word. We emphasize those in that order and believe our first priority is to worship Jesus Christ our Lord through reading the Bible and praying every day, not just worshiping on Sunday. Then it’s a matter of witnessing to people around you, then working to meet the needs of those within and without the church. We believe our future is as bright as the Lord. He’s the one we seek every day, and it’s his work, not ours. We join him in the work he does.”
Contact Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.