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  • Mark Clifton

First Person: Sowing Gospel seed in small-town Missouri

I’m guessing you have a town like Chula, Missouri, somewhere around you. With a grand total of 200 people in population, Chula has a post office, a community center, a school, and not much else. I grew up about 15 minutes away in the mega-city of Chillicothe (population 9,100).


Mark Clifton, executive director of replant and rural strategy at the North American Mission Board (NAMB), shared a message during a keynote session at the Replant Summit hosted at NAMB’s facility in Alpharetta, Ga. (NAMB photo by Alexandra Toy)

Like many other small towns across North America, Chula didn’t have a church of any kind. At one time, the town had four – three Protestant churches and a Catholic one. One of those, Chula Baptist Church, had been Southern Baptist. Built in 1896, the church had once been full. But the last few decades were tough. By the late 2010s, only three members remained. No longer able to support the church, they gave it to the Linn-Livingston Baptist Association. By the time Chula Baptist closed its doors for the last time, the town had no active churches. (See related stories here and here.)


The population of Chula is roughly the same as it was 60 years ago when my dad became the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church down the road in Chillicothe, but as of 2020, the town had no local Gospel witness. Of course, Chula had believers, but they had to drive 20 to 30 minutes away to worship.


That would have been the end of the story if not for Calvary Baptist.


For the past five years, Calvary has invested tirelessly into this small town, particularly the local school where they’ve provided school supplies for the children and much-needed physical labor. They’ve sponsored trunk or treat activities near Halloween and set up booths during the school carnival. They’ve hosted Vacation Bible School during the summers.


For the past two years, the church has led Thursday night Bible studies for children, youth and adults inside the school after a lovingly made meal.


You might read all that and think that Calvary Baptist Church of Chillicothe is a sprawling megachurch with a large staff and an unlimited budget. But you’d be wrong. At 120-130 people in regular attendance, Calvary is a bit bigger than your average SBC church, yet it’s hardly a megachurch.


But Pastor Jon Davis has this church sacrificing both time and treasure to plant the Gospel in Chula. In fall 2022, with the full support of the community, they started a worship service in the local K-8 school. During that time, the people of Calvary partnered with the community to clean up the old Chula Baptist Church building. Last fall, they began meeting in the building, and the consistent congregation of 25-30 people are making plans to constitute a new church soon in a town that once had no Gospel presence.


Of course, Calvary Baptist didn’t do it alone. The community supported it, making the school available for weekly Bible studies and worship services. The local water company allowed the church to insert notices about church events in the water bill. The town’s biggest employer gave them water to power wash the old church building.


The Linn-Livingston Baptist Association also played an integral part, providing the old Chula Baptist building and paying the insurance on it. Keith Corrick, the associational missions strategist, also trained the lay preachers who are now rotating through the pulpit of the Chula church.


Chula is a unique community with a history that extends back into the 19th century. But it’s also like a hundred other small communities throughout North America without a Gospel witness. More than likely, you have one of those communities near you.


I get it. You might not think you have the resources to invest in a community like Chula. But you have more to offer than you think. Calvary’s model is a great place to start.


  • They built relationships with the community by meeting practical needs in the local school and beyond.

  • They sent Sunday school teachers to do similar classes in Chula using the same resources from their own classrooms.

  • They started a worship service in the community with a rotation of lay preachers and music leaders. When they couldn’t find a music leader, they played a worship video to help lead the congregation in song.


Your church can do this. It’s not rocket science. You’re not alone either. Work with a few like-minded churches to do this together. Your local Southern Baptist association can help.


Your North American Mission Board’s Replant Team is here to help, too. We will be producing even more resources in the near future to support you in this effort. We’d love to walk with you as you explore replanting the Gospel in a rural community near you.


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Clifton is the senior director of replanting at the North American Mission Board. Mark has served as a pastor, church planter, church revitalizer, mission strategist, coach and mentor to young leaders. He has planted and replanted numerous churches and has also served as a national and regional leader for church planting and missions. His experience includes serving as the lead mission strategist for the Kansas/Nebraska Southern Baptist Convention, leading church planting efforts in the regions of north metro Atlanta, Georgia, serving as a church planter in Montreal, Quebec, as a Southern Baptist National Church Planting Missionary for eastern Canada, and has lead Southern Baptist church planting projects west of the Mississippi. Mark has been planting, replanting and providing strategic mission leadership since 1978. Mark and his wife, Jill, live in Kansas City, Missouri and have two sons, two daughters-in-law and three grandsons.




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