When Jeremy Peeler accepted a call to pastor Second Baptist Church in Shelby in 2012, he knew the church was in need of revitalization. Even after experiencing some initial growth, Peeler sensed that God was up to something more.
Around the same time that Peeler began his ministry at Second Baptist, Skip Allen was spearheading the launch of Element Church’s Shelby campus, a church plant of Element Church of Forest City. Although Element’s Shelby campus experienced rapid growth, Allen, like Peeler, sensed that God was up to something more.
Jeremy Peeler, left, lead discipleship pastor, and Skip Allen, lead teaching pastor, talk about the formation of Hope Community Church.
After much prayer and seeking the Lord’s leadership, an unlikely partnership became a reality in March 2016 when Second Baptist and Element Church’s Shelby campus came together to form Hope Community Church.
“If you had told me … we’re going to be merging with a 109-year-old Second Baptist Church, I would have told you, ‘You’re crazy,’” Allen said.
But that’s exactly what happened, and the result has been greater outreach into the community, more people coming to know Christ and more people growing in their walk with Him.
‘God’s doing something’
Allen’s and Peeler’s lives and ministries began to intersect in fall 2015.
Following an extended season of prayer with his congregation and personally, Peeler sensed God raising the possibility of Second Baptist merging with another church. Peeler just didn’t know which one.
Meanwhile, Allen had taken a personal retreat to pray and listen to God at Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville. Two days later, Allen was praying with his staff when his phone rang. It was Peeler.
Peeler had never met Allen, but told him he believed God wanted to do something in Cleveland County, located in southwest North Carolina between Charlotte and Asheville.
Allen responded that he had been coming to Second Baptist’s parking lot to pray for the past two years. Allen also said that he and his staff had just been praying about a possible merger with Second Baptist right before Peeler’s phone call.
“In that moment I thought, ‘God’s answering prayers,’” Allen said. “I’ve never seen him answer prayers this quick and this obvious, but we knew God’s doing something, and we just need to be obedient to it.”
Peeler went back to his congregation and shared about his conversation with Allen and the possibility of the two churches merging.
“You’ve been praying all these years, [and] God has answered those prayers,” Peeler told the congregation. “But it might not be in the way you have been thinking that prayer was going to be answered.”
The two congregations began to pray about next steps and explore the possibility of merging. Both congregations took deliberate, prayerful steps each step of the way.
Each congregation held listening sessions with their respective leaders and members to answer questions and address concerns. Second Baptist and Element held joint worship services together.
Throughout the various meetings, Peeler said one question kept being asked by many of Second Baptist’s members: “Can we reach more lost people by doing this?”
“I said, ‘I believe very deeply that’s why God has done this,’” Peeler said.
‘Obedience and sacrifice’
In March 2016, the congregations of Second Baptist and Element Church’s Shelby campus officially became Hope Community Church. The new congregation averages approximately 850 in Sunday morning worship, and at the end of 2017, the church had baptized 99 people who had made first-time professions of faith in Christ.
“God always honors obedience and sacrifice,” Peeler said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Visit ncbaptist.org/revitalize to learn more about the Church Health and Revitalization Ministry of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.)