If Flint-Groves Baptist Church pastor Ronnie Bowers had to pay for each time he used the word “incredible” to describe the church’s fifth annual Community Care Day, he would be broke.
People were lining up in the rain before the doors opened May 6, and about 1,500 eventually found help with a meal, food boxes, clothes and counseling in the steadily growing mill town church.
“There is desperate need in this community,” said Bowers, pastor since 2000. Countless textile jobs have been lost in Gastonia. Conceived as a way to meet the tangible needs of their neighbors, as the “hands and feet of Jesus, meeting people where they are” Flint-Groves members hesitated only the first year, when faced with a $21,000 non-budgeted expense to buy the equipment needed to cook and feed the main meal.
Since then, members look forward to it and some plan family vacations around the event week so they can be there with their children to serve.
In the days leading up to May 6 members sorted and racked donated clothing, loading a 7,500-sq.-ft. warehouse next to the church three-quarters full. By 1 p.m. it was empty.
Bowers attributes the turnout to “increased needs” in the community. “We’ve never had it happen like this for us before,” he said.
Medical and dental volunteers conducted screenings with the help of the Lions Club vision van and the North Carolina Baptist Men’s medical/dental bus. Of the 300 given general health screenings, 40 were referred immediately onto clinics or hospitals because of negative health indicators.
Bowers, whose brother Michael is pastor of Rich Fork Baptist Church in Thomasville, said his volunteers served 5,200 meals of chicken, lasagna, pork tenderloin and fixin’s. His father Dick, who was in the restaurant business, organizes the meal.
Volunteers on the serving line come early and stay late and do not give up their position in line. “It is so funny to watch,” Bowers said. “If they get a spot they won’t move. We’ll fight to stay in that spot.”
More than 300 volunteers swarmed the campus that day. Bowers is delighted to see intergenerational teams of senior adults serving with youth; parents serving with their children.
With the hum of activity in service and the intergenerational and interracial mix of people, Bowers was moved when one of his members told him, “This is the way the church should look.”
Flint-Groves has endured fluctuations of growth and decline in its 86 years. It has grown in the past nine years from a struggling congregation of 150 to a thriving and involved body of more than 700 in Sunday morning worship. Average age of members has dropped from 60 to the “low 40s” Bowers said.
“It’s really simple,” said Bowers, in his first pastorate. “We want to focus and point people toward Christ.”
As often happens, progress came on the back side of a crisis met and overcome. When asked what they wanted most in church, senior adults said they wanted their children and grandchildren back. Bowers asked some drop outs why they stopped coming and they told him the church was “just not relevant, it’s not helping us to live our lives.”
That prompted Bowers to lead Flint-Groves “back to the basics of faith,” modeled after the church in the book of Acts and after Nehemiah whose job rebuilding the was “too great a cause” to neglect when others urged him to come down.
“Now we have the warmest church,” Bowers said. “It really looks like the body of Christ to me.”
While Community Care Day is special, Flint-Groves small groups each find ways to serve in their neighborhoods. Some will feed quarters into washing machines at the laundromat for strangers. Others take snacks to local youth athletic events or pass out water. Bowers encourages members “as you go” to find a place to serve in the normal traffic patterns of their lives.