Ebenezer Baptist Church in Hendersonville, N.C., averaged 70-80 people in attendance five years ago. Today there are more than 500 members.
Steven Blanton, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist, attributes the growth to “God’s favor and a willing people.” When he became pastor in 2015, Blanton did not emphasize a mission statement but rather a concept from scripture, he told the Biblical Recorder in a phone interview Jan. 15.
Church leaders wanted to turn the narrative, he said. “This is not an older church trying to become young. We’re just the church trying to be a church.”
They focused instead on becoming a “1 John, Titus 2 and Acts” church: one that loved God and others; prioritized mentor relationships between older and younger members; and were on mission to see their neighbors and the nations know Jesus.
“We’ve got to take the attention off ourselves and put it on those who need Christ in our community, across the state, across this country, across the world,” Blanton said. “That’s kind of been our effort, and as people were willing to buy into that, God’s been blessing for His glory, through His people.”
Blanton stressed the importance of engaging younger families, couples and millennials to what was an older congregation. “God began to allow us to turn the corner. If your church is incredibly old, you can’t do Titus 2. If your church is incredibly young, you can’t do Titus 2.”
The change came earlier than expected, Blanton said. Within two years, he saw a hunger for God’s word begin to grow, especially in women’s groups and Sunday School classes. The congregation prioritized inviting friends and family to small group settings.
“I think if we focus more on engaging people with the scripture in a smaller context, the sanctuary will take care of itself,” Blanton said.
The church’s children and student ministries also expanded in recent years.
A yearlong internship, in partnership with Fruitland Baptist Bible College in Hendersonville, N.C., the Carolina Baptist Association and the North American Mission Board (NAMB), grew out of the revitalization at Ebenezer. The program is called “Plowmen,” inspired by Luke 9:62, and is open to students called to a revitalization or replant, Blanton explained.
“God began to start this process of sending us more individuals who cared about the season we were in and walking through, to help others prepare to do the same,” he said.
Because Ebenezer is only about four miles from Fruitland, the internship offers practical, hands-on experience for students at a local church. They have access to resources provided by NAMB; are involved in pastoral ministry and shepherding assignments; and participate in staff gatherings and one-on-one meetings with church leaders. Students examine case studies of “hurting and dying churches” throughout North Carolina and the Southeast and have an opportunity to attend the Timothy+Barnabas retreat at no cost.
Some interns from past cohorts have since accepted calls from churches to pastor them through revitalization.