Pastor Don McKinnon understands that building bridges to the community takes tactical patience.
He’s a replanter. A pastor who intentionally replants the seeds of the Gospel in a place where it once flourished.
A year and a half ago, Don became the pastor of Legacy Church at First Baptist Church in Sutton, the fourth oldest Baptist church in Massachusetts. When he arrived, there were twelve church members. Together, they serve their community by sharing the love of Christ in word and action.
The church had a history of opening their building to the community, but in the recent past that cooperation had ceased and some neighbors had developed negative feelings toward the church. With a new focus on reaching out to the community, opening the church building as a resource for the town made sense. Don said, “If you disconnect from the town, you disconnect from life-support. We asked how can we piggyback on what is already happening in town?’’
“Part of the [revitalization] strategy is to reestablish bridges with the town,” McKinnon said. “Showing the love of Christ in tangible ways – that’s what starts Gospel conversations.”
Within his first months in Sutton, the church scrambled to participate in the town-wide annual holiday celebration called Chain of Lights. Held every year on the first Saturday of December, the event features free trolley rides to many participating community locations – that meant hundreds of people would be brought to the church’s doorstep! When the event was done, four (tired) church women reconvened to assess and begin planning for the future. They knew more volunteers were needed to make the outreach event more effective so they contacted two churches in Missouri and Kansas about sending mission teams to help in December 2018.
Partnering with those churches gave Legacy Church the team needed to welcome 300 townspeople during this past Advent. The church was the only stop on the town-wide Chain of Lights that offered free snacks in addition to two Christmas concerts featuring Gospel stories. There were hands-on craft tables for children. There was time for conversation and invitation. The church team gave visitors thirty-seven copies of the Gospel of John and twenty-four devotionals. Volunteers engaged guests in fifteen Gospel conversations and rejoiced over one person’s decision to follow Christ.
Guests were invited to a free family-friendly holiday movie night the following week and twenty people showed up. It was a big hit and gave the church momentum going into next year’s event.
The person who decided to follow Christ that night is now attending the church as is one family from the movie night. The church also made a number of connections in town. One man from town bought exterior lights for the church and townspeople have commented that the church looks “open”. Pastor Don recently brought food donations to the community food pantry and locals there commented that the church is “building a good reputation within the town once more.”
Rebuilding community bridges takes time, team-work and faithful prayer.
Don is a native New Englander and the son and grandson of pastors. He is co-host of the Practical Church Revitalization Podcast with Erik Maloy of First Church of Charlestown and a member of Overseed’s Bi-vocational Pastors Cohort.