Celebrating the combined efforts of four GARBC churches who helped rescue a sister church that was almost dead, First Baptist Church, Pittsfield Ill., held two special reopening services in its newly remodeled facilities.
“Yes, we are celebrating our new building,” says Pastor Michael Pierce, “but more importantly, we are celebrating what God has done here. The building has changed, but the message has not changed. The reason we built this building is to reach people with the good news—to point people to Jesus Christ.”
The reopening and rededication services featured the pastors and some members of four west central Illinois churches who donated time, labor, materials, and money so that Pittsfield First could once again worship on the site where the church was dedicated in 1848.
The churches who helped rescue Pittsfield are Columbus Road Baptist and Calvary Baptist in Quincy, Faith Baptist in Camp Point, and First Baptist in Littleton.
Since it organized in 1840, the church saw its building fall into disrepair and its attendance dwindle to just seven people by 2008. That’s when it reached out for help to Pastor Bob Cowman of Columbus Road Baptist Church in nearby Quincy. That year, Pastor Cowman visited the three other churches, shared his vision for Pittsfield, and asked them to join his church in rescuing Pittsfield.
The four churches voted to help Pittsfield, and together they raised approximately $162,453 to rebuild the church and parsonage. They also provided volunteer labor to help defray construction expenses and organized outreach activities for the Pittsfield community. Some weekends, area churches sent volunteer work teams to do construction, and ministry teams to do acts of kindness. J. D. Albsmeyer, chairman of the deacons at Columbus Road, stepped down to become the full-time construction coordinator for the rebuilding project.
In addition to assistance from area churches, Baptist Builders Club gave Pittsfield First a $15,000 grant through Columbus Road Baptist, and the Illinois-Missouri Association of Regular Baptist Churches gave $2,100 from its church-planting fund. BBC–USA Director Michael Nolan went to Pittsfield and met with Pastor Cowman, who gave him a tour of the church while it was being rehabbed. Pastor Cowman told BBC–USA supporters, “I want to express my gratitude for your prayer and support of the Pittsfield church replant.”
Columbus Road helped even more by introducing the tiny Pittsfield congregation to Columbus Road’s associate pastor, Michael Pierce. Pastor Pierce, who had been in youth ministry in Pennsylvania, talked to Pastor Cowman about someday getting involved with a small country church. Pastor Cowman thought Pittsfield and Pastor Pierce would be a great match.
Thanks to the financial assistance and the volunteer labor, Pittsfield church members now sit on padded chairs in a large, open auditorium/fellowship hall refinished with drywall painted in earth tones. It’s a far cry from the former antique pews, wood paneling, and bright red carpet.
Pastor Cowman says the focus of the remodeling project was to give Pittsfield First a permanent facility so it could become a fully autonomous church, rather than a mission church. “We purposely did not dissolve their functionality so that they would have to start all over again. We set a budget for them, and every dollar given by the church plant stayed in Pittsfield,” Pastor Cowman says.
During the remodeling process, the Pittsfield congregation traded meeting on Sundays to holding weekly Bible studies in members’ homes. Pastor Cowman often led the study on Thursday nights with a core group of about 10 people.
In 2010, the church restarted Sunday services, first at a local radio station and then in the parsonage, where Pastor Michael Pierce and his family had moved in July 2009. As more people started coming, it became clear that no more than 25 people were going to fit in the Pierces’ living room.
As construction continued, Pittsfield and its sister churches held several Servant Evangelism activities to reach out and get to know the community. These included car washes at a supermarket, participating in a parade, canvassing, park concerts, hosting a booth at a festival, and a summer VBS program.
In October 2010, the congregation moved to the Pike County Senior Citizens Center while the remodeling was being completed, and on Dec. 23, 2012, they held their first service in the newly remodeled building with 68 people. They called it “Home for the Holidays.”
The day before the Jan. 13 re-launch celebration, the church invited the city to the church for breakfast, a tour of the facility, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony with community leaders. Two TV reporters showed up, along with about 100 people who hung around long afterwards to look at old photos, admire the changes, and reminisce about their memories of the church’s history.
On a typical Sunday, Pittsfield now averages 35 to 40 people, but more than 120 people showed up for the celebration service, including the pastors and some members of the four area churches who helped with the remodeling project: Pastor Tom Robbins, Pastor Mickey Farlow, Pastor Larry Lindow, and Pastor Bob Cowman. While people were singing praises to God, Pastor Pierce says more and more people kept arriving. “We were raiding the basement for more metal chairs.”
ILMO State Representative Bernie Augsburger gave a message of challenge and exhortation to the congregation, and Pastor Cowman closed the service in a prayer of dedication as the congregation held hands around the auditorium.
Sitting in the audience was Linda Pearson of nearby Perry, Ill., who was saved in the church in 1982. She visited along with her husband, Rusty, their daughter, son-in-law, and her 1-year-old grandson, Benjamin. “I came back to help celebrate this day,” she said.
Pastor Pierce points to the church’s name to reflect its mission going forward. “Pittsfield First—it’s a way to emphasize that we’re here to reach out and serve the community, not our own comfort and preferences. I have been flooded by Facebook messages, texts, and comments from our people about how encouraged they were by the whole weekend. This is a great start to what I hope is the next jump in growth for our congregation.”
Darrell Goemaat is director of photography for Regular Baptist Press.