MARLBOROUGH, Mass. – The revitalization story of First Baptist Church features a pastor’s dying wish, a merger with a church plant and the church’s first VBS in more than 30 years.
First Baptist Church of Marlborough has been a prominent presence in downtown for more than 150 years. Despite having a congregation of hundreds in the 1970s, the church had slipped down to around 12 attendees by 2021.
That all changed when the First Baptist merged with a neighboring young church plant called Hope Community Church.
Since the merger, First Baptist now has about 75 average attendees.
Terry Dorsett, executive director/treasurer for the Baptist Convention of New England (BCNE), described the revitalization of First Baptist as “the most wonderful thing we’ve seen in years.”
“The older people had the wisdom, commitment and love for the community, while the younger people brought the energy and the kids,” Dorsett said.
“Those initial services with the two congregations were definitely a Holy Spirit moment. It’s been an incredibly encouraging story because there are hundreds of churches out there in New England who are in need of revitalization.”
First Baptist’s turnaround began when things seemed their worst.
The church was already in heavy decline when their interim pastor announced he could not continue pastoring the church because of his deteriorating health.
He made a request to the church, which was affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA at the time, to reach out to the BCNE for help.
The pastor, who recently passed away, had heard Southern Baptists are very evangelistic and that the BCNE was helping several churches in its convention revitalize.
First Baptist followed the pastor’s suggestion by reaching out to Dorsett and becoming a Southern Baptist church.
In addition to attending strategy meetings with the church, Dorsett would frequently preach on Sundays or assist in providing pulpit supply.
One Sunday, Dorsett could not find anyone available to preach at First Baptist. He decided to turn to pastor Logan Loveday of Hope Community.
Loveday planted Hope in 2017 after he said God laid the community of Marlborough on his heart.
The congregation has steadily grown over the years, but struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic. Church leadership had explored merging with another established congregation, but plans fell through.
Hope Community had grown its congregation to a steady group of 25 to 30 attendees, most of which were young families.
When Loveday was asked to preach at First Baptist, the members of Hope decided just to attend the service at First Baptist that Sunday. The worship teams even joined together to lead worship.
The strong connection was instantaneous. Loveday would be asked to preach again for First just a few weeks later.
Shortly after, the leaders of First Baptist voted to merge the two congregations and install Loveday as lead pastor.
Loveday said the two congregations fit so well together, only God could get the credit for it.
“This was honestly not a plan that we had because God orchestrated all these pieces,” Loveday said.
“I think in their (First Baptist’s) mind it was just a nice idea, but didn’t think something like this would even be possible. People were crying and emotional throughout the process. None of us were expecting the way that God would work and bring it together in such a beautiful fashion.
“There was no fighting or politics. You had a dying church and a church plant who was looking to grow. Both were still wanting to be faithful to God and the gospel in Marlborough, and everything else didn’t matter.”
The first service held after the decision to merge was the baptism of two new believers at a local lake in August 2021.
Gary Moritz is church revitalization director for the BCNE, and said First Baptist is one of several churches in the convention going through a revitalization process.
Additionally, the BCNE recently hosted a vitality conference aimed at resourcing, training and encouraging pastors.
He praised the leadership of both Loveday and Dorsett for the journey First Baptist has taken, which represents a positive example for other convention churches.
“The mood of the leader is the mood of the team,” Moritz said. “Dr. Dorsett is a humble man who brings a sense of family and team to the convention. We were trying to encourage the pastors at this conference that we all have this same heartbeat as a convention.”
Since the official merger in 2021, Loveday has continued to lead First Baptist through a variety of exciting developments, such as the church’s first Vacation Bible School in at least 30 years last summer.
During the week, 48 kids attended and one child made a decision for Christ. Several families are now attending the church as a result of the week.
Another update has been the renovation of the church’s historic building. Not only have church members volunteered, but several mission teams from other states have traveled in to help.
The sanctuary and other rooms have been painted, while the kitchen and bathrooms have been updated.
One group even featured a professional stone mason who repaired free of charge one of the church’s front walls that had been damaged by a car accident.
“Church members were shocked that other churches in other states were willing to come and help them,” Loveday said. “That’s been an exciting thing they’ve experienced as they have learned more about the SBC.”
Another way Loveday has taught the congregation about the cooperation of the convention is through the work of Send Relief.
First Baptist’s reborn congregation comprises diversity in both age and ethnicity, with seven different nationalities represented, including Ukraine.
This church member from Ukraine has been directly affected by the ongoing conflict, as her brother is a soldier fighting in the Ukrainian army.
In addition to surrounding her with prayer and support, Loveday also wanted to show the church how Send Relief can make a practical impact around the world.
“We wanted to make sure we are encouraging her, but also partnering and supporting the work of Send Relief as well,” Loveday said. “It’s the first thing they (church members) ask when a disaster happens, is what opportunities are available through Send Relief.”
Loveday said ultimately God deserves the praise for First Baptist’s story, because only He could have written it.
“When you have a church that people in the community thought was closed, and have them now actively engaged with the local community, then God is glorified,” Loveday said.
“God works in His time. For years we drove past First Baptist Church and never once was this idea a thought. Yet, God was preparing things in different places and times. To see where we’re at now, this was all God’s plan. It was easy in the sense that God did it.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Timothy Cockes is a Baptist Press staff writer.)