Since 1946 Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute has maintained a strong reputation for training pastors and church leaders. Today between 20 to 25 percent of all Baptist pastors in North Carolina and South Carolina are graduates of the school, which is located in Hendersonville, N.C.
“I don’t know of any college or seminary who has such a high number of graduates who are serving as pastors in the state,” said David Horton, the school’s president. “They are serving as missionaries in the USA and in various countries around the world. And they all got their start right here in Fruitland.”
Horton recently learned of another surprising statistic when a survey revealed that more than 50 percent of the school’s graduates continue their education in other schools, receiving not only a bachelor’s degree, but a master’s degree, also. Twelve percent of Fruitland’s graduates go on to earn doctorates.
“During our alumni day last year a Fruitland alumnus said to me, as sincerely as he could possibly say it,” Horton recalled, “‘After I graduated from Fruitland I went on to receive my bachelor’s degree, a master of divinity and a doctorate. If I had to turn in all of my degrees and could only keep one, I would keep my degree from Fruitland.’ He said, ‘Fruitland is foundational to everything else I did – my ministerial effectiveness, my academics. It all came back to my training at Fruitland. Fruitland enabled all of the other accomplishments.’”
“Fruitland is a great deal,” Horton said. “A student who comes to Fruitland is getting an affordable, first-class education, along with a foundation for life and ministry that cannot be compared to any other educational opportunity.”
Sixty percent of the school’s budget comes from Cooperative Program (CP) gifts through Baptist State Convention of N.C. (BSC). This keeps tuition low, even lower than most community colleges.
But the funding challenge of Fruitland is like that of seminaries. Almost no graduates become highly paid executives who can afford to make big donations to the school. “Our alumni are very loyal. There is a high degree of loyalty, but typically a low level of income among them,” Horton said.
Fruitland feels the pinch now as they attempt to raise $1 million dollars to repay a loan. Before Horton became the president, the school borrowed $1.2 million from the BSC in 2007 to expand their chapel in honor of outgoing president, Kenneth Ridings.
Horton said, “The chapel was so small we could not hold graduation ceremonies on the campus. It was expanded to seat 600 people. Now we can accommodate graduation ceremonies and host major conferences. It has been a tremendous benefit to us.”
The chapel holds more than eight events annually with attendance of more than 500, in addition to four weekly chapel services.
“There was a lot of optimism in 2007,” he said. “Things looked bright regarding paying the loan quickly. But as the chapel went up, the economy went down. Repaying the loan has been very slow. The state convention has been patient with us.
“We believe it is a matter of integrity that we repay the debt. Some have asked if the convention could forgive the loan. Our board considered that and with one voice they expressed that we are totally committed to repaying the loan.”
Through Fruitland’s “One in a Million” campaign, its board is appealing to all N.C. Baptists to make a special contribution toward the goal of raising $1 million. This will pay the debt, which is now about $850,000. It will also allow the school to renovate other buildings that are in need of repair.
“We want to find 1,000 churches or individuals who will give $1,000 dollars over the next 18 months to meet this goal,” he said. “I know budgets are tight, but most churches who love Fruitland can find $1,000, especially when they see they are enabling those pastors and church planters on the field in these crucial times.”
In October, N.C. Baptists will have an opportunity to take a special offering to honor Kenneth Ridings and to show their love for Fruitland’s mission.
“Kenneth Ridings has touched so many people over the 40 years of his teaching at Fruitland, his preaching across several states and his leadership as Fruitland’s president for 11 years,” Horton said. “We hope people will want to honor this great man of God with a gift to pay for this building.
Horton added, “We need our friends to do three things. First, please pray for Fruitland. I am really serious about that. That is the best gift they can give us. Pray for the hand of God and the anointing to be on Fruitland.
“Second, keep sending students our way,” he said. “Third, we need financial support. Please give to the Cooperative Program, and please help us in this special challenge to pay our debt.”
“… You can’t put a value on what it means to train someone to be a minister of the gospel, and to deal with a soul that hangs in the balance between heaven and hell. Is anything more important than that? We ought to put our money into schools and churches that are dealing with souls.”
Two Fruitland alumni shared how the school has impacted their lives.
“God used those two years to mold and challenge my spiritual life,” said Don Holder, a 1992 Fruitland graduate and executive director of Hebron Colony Ministries in Boone, N.C.
“He used godly, well prepared men to encourage and equip me with the tools to study and present His Word to a struggling and seeking world. I’m convinced that Fruitland is one of the best places anywhere to equip you for expository preaching and teaching.”
Another graduate is Don McCutcheon, the retiring team leader for evangelization for BSC.
“Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute provided the spiritual, theological and ministerial foundation that continues to direct and influence all that I am and do,” McCutcheon said. “Since I came from an unchurched background, the practical and effective instruction from godly leaders assisted me greatly in both understanding and applying the truths of God’s Word.”
Fruitland’s stated purpose is to glorify God, serve the local church, and fulfill the great commission. Their purpose statement says the school is “… to develop Christian leaders who think biblically, communicate the gospel effectively and serve in Christ’s kingdom with godly character, competence and commitment.”
Fruitland offers on-campus classes, online classes, hybrid classes and satellite campuses. All are successful. Fruitland has a satellite campus in Monroe that consistently has 20 to 30 students.
Satellite campuses for Hispanic students, under the direction of Robert Fernandez, meet in Winston-Salem, Statesville, Sylva, Wilmington and on the Fruitland campus.
“My heart’s desire is to see existing churches revitalized and new churches planted,” Horton said.
“I think we’ve got to have both. Fruitland graduates have a great track record of going into some of these churches that are dying. I can name case after case of those kinds of churches, where our graduates have gone there, and today those churches are alive again and doing well.”
Fruitland also is developing two new degree tracks that focus on church planting and apologetics. Fruitland class credits can transfer to many colleges and universities with some universities and seminaries providing full credit.
There are special transfer-credit partnerships with North Greenville University, Columbia International University, Piedmont International University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Most graduates want to continue their education after Fruitland, Horton says. “I think students come out of Fruitland well grounded and prepared to continue their education anywhere they want to go.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – For those interested in learning more about Fruitland and the One in a Million campaign, please contact them at (828) 685-8886, or email J. D. Grant at [email protected]. Fruitland’s website is http://www.fruitland.edu.)