Eight years ago David Barco did not know Christ and did not go to church. Today he is the youngest pastor of the oldest Baptist church in Cumberland County. He calls this an “anomaly” that gives glory to the “awesome God we serve.”
Cape Fear Baptist Church (CFBC) was constituted in 1756 and has held a reputation of effective ministry to the Grays Creek community southeast of Fayetteville. But two years ago church attendance had decreased to fewer than 20 people.
“They realized this was a make it or break it situation,” Barco said. “They knew that if they didn’t do something, these doors would close and this would just be a historic site. They took a risk with me at 24 years old.”
As a teenager, Barco had no interest in church. But he was very interested in dating the woman who is now his wife.
“One of the rules of dating Danielle is that I had to go to church,” he said. “I hated [going to church], but I went every Sunday.” They attended Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Fayetteville where Ron Hester is pastor.
David Barco stands at the pulpit in Cape Fear Baptist Church in Fayetteville. He is the youngest pastor of the oldest Baptist church in Cumberland County. The church was constituted in 1756 and has a long history of ministering to its community.
“I could tell God was convicting me, so one Wednesday night I went to talk with Pastor Hester, and I gave my life to Christ,” Barco said. “I was 19 years old.”
He began reading his Bible. “I started feeling like God was calling me to preach. I didn’t understand all of it, so I talked to Mr. Hester about it. He guided me, and I submitted to God’s call.”
Barco enrolled at Carolina College of Biblical Studies in Fayetteville. At the age of 21 he accepted his first ministry position as the youth pastor of Massey Hill Baptist Church. “I enjoyed youth ministry, and it was going real well,” he said. “The youth group grew from eight to 40. It was awesome. But I felt that God called me to pastor, and I always wanted opportunities to preach.”
When Barco heard the pulpit was vacant in another church in the area, he decided on a long shot to submit his resume.
He said, “A man from the church called me about a week later and he told me, ‘Listen, you’re too young for the job; God’s called you to be a youth pastor, not a pastor.’ I said, ‘Ouch.’ I was really bummed out about that. I thought I’m never going to get a shot at pastoring. I’m young, and no one’s going to give me an opportunity in an established church.”
In the spring of 2012 Danielle’s uncle was in a local McDonald’s when someone from CFBC asked, “Isn’t Danielle married to a minister? Can you ask him to send us his resume?”
The uncle told Barco about the conversation. “I don’t want to be any part of that,” Barco said. Knowing the church only had 15 to 20 people left, he did not believe it would be a good match. “We won’t be able to do anything. It’s a traditional church – I won’t go well with the church.”
His wife encouraged him to preach for the church. “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” she said.
Although he preached at CFBC, he was still reluctant to consider a call to serve as the pastor. “I made up my mind that I didn’t want to even try to take a chance. I would probably fail at it. I was comfortable in youth ministry.”
Barco prayed, “Lord, let Your will be done. If you want me to take this church, please show me.”
The church where he was serving had experienced financial struggles and needed to release him. Barco said. “But that was God answering my prayer.”
He weighed the options of looking for a secular job or trying to get into another youth ministry position.
“I thought, maybe the Lord wants me to take this church,” he said. “A lot of people encouraged me not to do it. Many pastors I looked up to said, ‘You’re too young for this church; it’s not going to work; the church is about to close; the church is going to die.’”
One friend explained that Barco’s philosophy of ministry would not work in an established church. He was advised to start a new church. “It is easier to give birth than to raise the dead,” his friend said.
“I thought about all of that,” Barco said. “As I read the scriptures, it occurred to me that giving birth and raising the dead are both miracles. But raising the dead is an even greater miracle, and God will get even more glory in that.”
He accepted the church’s call in June 2012. There wasn’t a youth ministry, children’s ministry or Wednesday night service.
He served bivocationally for the first year since the church could not support him full time.
“We went to the drawing board that summer, and we worked. We set as our mission ‘To lead people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ,’” he said.
“Every ministry is driven off this. We’re not going to design this church for church people, but for the unchurched. Jesus came to seek and save that which is lost. So that’s what we are about.”
On Labor Day weekend of 2012 CFBC relaunched. It was a way of making a statement to the community that the church is new and different. The congregation saw it as a new beginning point. They baptized 14 people that day.
“It’s been awesome to see what the Lord has done. We have baptized 60 people in two years – 40 of those are adults. The majority of our people did not grow up in church, and most did not go to church before they came here,” Barco said.
The sanctuary was built in 1859. It was spared destruction during the Civil War because it was used as a hospital. “When people look at the building, they think it is a traditional church – because of the old building. But the church has had a complete change.”
Barco preaches in jeans and a casual shirt.
“We have an awesome praise team and sing contemporary music,” he said. “People say a church must look a certain way to attract people, and the building needs to be relevant. I don’t believe that. When I was lost I did not want to go to any church, no matter what it looked like.”
Tina Drake leads the praise team and has been a church member for four years. “Two years ago, CFBC was a mere skeleton of the church it once was, with only a handful of dedicated members fighting to keep it alive. Now, the church is thriving,” she said. “My own teenagers refuse to miss a church service because they are so excited to participate.”
The church has averaged around 100 in attendance this year. Barco said 25-30 youth participate in a thriving youth ministry. There are Sunday School classes for all ages now, and Barco leads a class called “Starting Point” for new believers.
A small group ministry is scheduled to launch in October. He believes this will be a great entry point into the church. “I’m stoked for that,” Barco said. “I think it’s going to take us to another level. These will be in homes, restaurants, wherever they choose. They will invite their unchurched friends to join the group.”
Jamie Cottrell, the director for the small groups ministry, grew up in CFBC. “Before our relaunch, I thought it was time to be looking for a new church because the doors were starting to shut. When David and Danielle came to the church it was our last hope.” She said the relaunch brought the church together. “We want to tell the world what is going on at Cape Fear Baptist.”