CONNELLY SPRINGS — A new Baptist church is spouting in this rural community. Small for now, a big vision promises future growth for Living Water Baptist Church.
The church has about 40 members, but church planter and pastor Jim Rice is baptizing new members.
“I just believe that unless a church is seeing people come to Jesus, it doesn’t really have a reason to call itself a church,” he said.
Rice celebrated his 75th birthday in July and he admits he did not immediately accept the challenge of starting another church.
“I started a church in Shelby years ago and I knew it was hard work. But we didn’t have as much help back then as we do now,” he said.
The help he refers to is limited-term financial backing from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina that has helped the church stay afloat long enough to get going. Living Water was able to buy a former public school building and five acres of land that later was used as a Bible school.
Church planting is a significant recipient of funds given by North Carolina Baptist churches through the North Carolina Missions Offering, conducted in most churches in September.
But North Carolina Baptists have helped in other ways as well.
A Baptist Men witnessing team visited homes throughout the community and two decisions for Christ resulted; one couple has become faithful members. Ruffin Stacey Baptist Church near Reidsville, sent a 23-member team to do outreach Vacation Bible Schools last year, led by Pastor Michael Tillman and his wife, Judy. The church is scheduled to send another team this year.
Though most Living Springs members are retirement age, Rice has had a thriving outreach ministry to children who attend a local public school. A church Rice formerly served as pastor in Shelby provided a van that member Roberta Penland drives to pick up members each week.
Living Water has sponsored music programs several times to attract people. Until they find a pianist Rice plays piano and his wife, Anita, leads singing.
With the church off to a good start, Rice now dreams bigger. He plans to begin reaching out to the nearby Hmong settlement, where the people from southern China have settled.
“We would welcome them into our church or if they want to start a separate work, they could meet in our building here,” Rice said.
The Living Water building, constructed in 1923 and later, needs repairs, but it has spacious seating for several hundred plus an abundance of classrooms.
Rice has talked to a history commission about registering the building as a historical site, but he may call on Baptist Men to help. N.C. Baptist Men plan to construct a mission camp in nearby Shelby, which will include a warehouse for supplies and housing for scores of volunteers to tackle helping projects in a multi-county area.
He dreams of having a multicultural, multi-national, multi-racial congregation.
Rice has been to Jamaica on missions preaching trips for years, so multi-racial work is not new to him.
Pamela Mungo, church planting consultant with the Baptist State Convention, has been thrilled to see how the Rices have gotten Living Water Baptist Church up and going, and she likes Rice’s missions heart. “I would love to see other retired pastors come help us start new churches. They have the experience we need,” she said.
Rice is a blunt about it. “I see retired pastors my age sit down and do nothing and they die. I intend to keep moving,” he said.
If that motion brings people to faith in Christ and sees a new church born, all the better.