My name is Cole Lancaster and I pastor First Baptist Church of Gillham, AR, population 157. I had previously been a part of a great church at Cove First Baptist located just north of Gillham, but this is my first pastorate. To say I was scared when I accepted the call to become pastor would be an understatement.
Our first services were full of heart and seeking God’s guidance, but we were very low number wise. I believe some of those first services there were only around 20 in attendance, and my family consists of five. But it didn’t take long for God to begin to work.
Our youth group, led by Troy Mcbroom, hit the ground running. God was adding many students and we started doing lots of activities to keep them geared up and focused on our mission of serving the community and each other for God.
One month after we arrived, we were blessed with our first salvation and baptism, my daughter, Holly Jo Lancaster. To say I was on cloud nine would be a complete understatement! But that wasn’t the end. Instead, God was just beginning to do work in our congregation. From then until December 2020, God added six salvations, seven baptisms and 15 new church members.
So far this year, as I am writing this the week of Palm Sunday, God has added three salvations and baptisms, and five new members. That brings us, to date, nine salvations, 10 baptisms, and 20 new members in a year and a half!
We have seen lots of visitors coming. Some stayed and others didn’t, but God has definitely been drawing people. Pre-Covid we were starting to see a pretty steady Sunday morning attendance of around 70. Then Covid hit and really did a job on us. When we reopened our doors for live worship, we were operating on about half that. We still haven’t gotten back many elderly that were attending.
Fast-forward to today. A few weeks back we set a record for our church since the ’70s! We had an attendance of almost 90! We are averaging right around 70-80 each week in worship with a Sunday School class average of close to 50!
Oh, but He hasn’t stopped there! Numbers are wonderful – but hearts are where it’s at. The world can fill a stadium but only God can fill a heart. Since we have been here, I have seen tremendous growth, not only from the congregation but from me as well. We are all in this together. One mind, one accord. It is our goal here at First Baptist Gillham to shine Jesus’ light to all the world. But we are going to start at our homes and our communities and work inside out. It’s hard to be a light when your home is dark.
God began to put it on my heart to start a Men’s Ministry, so beginning in August of 2020 we had our first ‘Men’s Dinner & A Study.’ We would be focusing on the roles that God had created for us and how we were to live as men of God. Turnout was amazing! Our first night we had over 20 men show up. As sad as it is, in this time and age it is seems to be very hard to get men to turn out for anything extra that the church does. But these men were different, the Holy Spirit had set it on them to reignite their passion to live like Jesus! We would do a study and a dinner every two weeks on Friday nights. We didn’t limit this to just our church either. We had men coming from three different churches and three different denominations! Some weren’t even attending a regular church at all but were coming for this men’s gathering. All to learn more about how to be the men God had created us to be.
This past January, God began to work in the women, and they started their own study on the Saturday nights following the men’s. Their turnout has been every bit as good as the men’s and they have been holding steady at around 13-15 depending on the night.
These two ministries have made a tremendous impact on our church. To have men and women learning their God-given roles and to have a place to talk in private about their struggles and concerns has truly lit a fire in the souls of the people of our church. We are coming together like never before to face a foe that has always been there, but now we see him for who he is, and he is in our crosshairs!
God hasn’t forgotten the little ones either. This past week we had 16 in Children’s Church from second grade and under. For some, this number may not seem like much, but this has been an increase of 15 in a year and a half. How many churches can say God added 16 times what was there in less than two years?
As far as the future goes, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” We are very optimistic about our future here at Gillham First Baptist. In the upcoming months, we are hoping to really start interacting with the community and the youth more, now that the Covid fears are wearing off and things are reopening. We have big plans for the future, yet we aren’t disillusioned and think that Satan is just going to lie down and quit. We know he will regather and run at us again. But I know in whom I believe and if we will just stay focused with our eyes on Jesus, then we will never sink. Most of the time, it isn’t the outside world that destroys the church, it’s the members on the inside. If we can keep our hearts on Jesus and not consume ourselves, then the gates of hell can’t stop us!