Palmerville Baptist Church,
a church plant in 1886, closed its doors Easter 2009 with 17 members, the same
number of members that began the church and the same day it started.
“It was becoming too much
from them,” said Hal Bilbo, associational missionary for Stanly Baptist Association. “Members have joined other church fellowships and gave their
property to the association.”
Palmerville was a mission of
Ebenezer Baptist Church, now Badin Baptist Church.
“It was only a couple of
miles from church but it was a different community,” he said.
That community once boomed
with a general store, a school, and a post office. Bilbo said a plant closure
in Badin contributed to the church’s membership decline. Leaders (deacons
ranging in age 79-84) made the decision to close in 2008 because “it could no
longer maintain the properties.”
The church building and its
cemetery were given to the association. The church is building a $100,000
cemetery fund to provide perpetual care. The fund is managed by the N.C.
“Our plans are to use it for
a community center,” said Bilbo who mentioned the chapel might be used for weddings
or a future congregation if the community builds back up around it.
In Bilbo’s five years as
associational missionary, this is only the second time he’s seen a church
“The first one the pastor
actually owned the property,” he said, but he was in bad health. The church
tried another pastor but “it just didn’t work.”
Bilbo said that only 10 of
the 60 churches and two missions in his association are growing.
“That’s not a great
percentage,” said Bilbo, who considers six of the churches to be in critical
shape. “They are in survival mode. It’s a challenge to help these struggling
Some are aging congregations
and are not reaching new people. Some have “lost their purpose,” he said.
“They’ve operated as a support group for each other and do fine in that
respect. It’s just really tough for them to go forward.”
Seventeen have bivocational
“We’ve had a church to ask
another church to move in with it,” he said, but that hasn’t happened yet.
A blended family like that
“presents a unique set of challenges,” Bilbo said.
Associational leadership is
available to the churches. Bilbo said the association has offered clinics and
he and others are willing to meet at the local church to talk with leaders.
“Hopefully those who come in
to help will inspire and be a little contagious,” Bilbo said.
He sees a lack of hope in
the struggling churches.
“Hope does change your whole
perspective towards things,” he said.