FBC Dean experiencing an injection of life through a few strategic shifts

‘Sometimes it’s the

little things'

The small town of Dean—with a population just shy of 500—sits slightly northwest of Wichita Falls. It’s a place where neighbors know and care about one another and where going to church is a good thing.

First Baptist Church of Dean—founded in 1909 as MableDean Missionary Baptist Church—sits on a long stretch of State Highway 79 North, about four miles from the town’s city limits sign. The church has long been a bulwark of the community, but with four pastors over the past decade, not to mention a pandemic, times have been challenging.

Yet FBC Dean is on the cusp of a huge comeback, said Pastor Wayne Miller, who came to the church in September 2022. Miller accepted the call to FBC Dean after his name kept coming up as the church went through a lengthy pastor search process.

Miller came to the church with an unusual resume. He is a cartoonist who illustrated the Christian apologetics book Stand Firm and, at another time, helped lead the successful merger of La Junta Baptist and Midway Baptist into GracePointe Church in La Junta.

Miller and his wife, Betsy, moved into the FBC Dean parsonage following an interim position at Pipeline Church in Hurst. The local paper, the Clay County Leader, featured him on the front page with the headline: “Big city pastor goes country.” At FBC Dean, the Millers found a predominantly older congregation with longtime Royal Ambassadors (RA) and Girls in Action (GA) programs run by an experienced leader.

They also found folks ready for a challenge. What the church has done in only a few months could be emulated by many congregations hoping to preserve important traditions while undergoing a rejuvenation. 

“Sometimes it’s the little things,” Miller said.

Some of those little things are opening new doors for FBC Dean. They include:

Enhancing the physical environment.

Miller said among the first things the church did after his arrival was raise the window shades to let in more light, and to remove artificial flower arrangements, embracing a sleeker, more modern look. “Less is more” became the church’s informal motto.

Members were also encouraged during services to move up a pew or two, closer to the front of the sanctuary, even when that meant giving up their familiar places. This encourages a welcoming feeling within the congregation.

“We want to have community in our church, but we are also reaching out to the community to let them know we want to be their church.”

Engaging the larger community. 

“We want to have community in our church, but we are also reaching out to the community to let them know we want to be their church,” Miller said. 

Building on the success of its RA and GA programs, the church continues to send a van to pick up kids and take them home. Most of the children and teens are from families outside the church. Recently, a pinewood derby held for RA groups from FBC Dean and several other churches created excitement. Even more exciting, a boy recently made a profession of faith at the church. 

Connections with Petrolia ISD, which serves Dean, are growing stronger. Miller will be speaking at baccalaureate services for Petrolia High School this May. The church has also started allowing community groups to use its half-court gym and playground. 

Wayne Miller became the pastor First Baptist Church of Dean in September of 2022. Submitted photo

Rethinking church with intentional evangelism. 

“We have moved the focus from church growth to kingdom growth,” Miller said. “You can’t go to church. It’s impossible. A church is not a building. A church is people. People make up the church. We’ve come to worship, study, learn, and grow.”

Intentional evangelism is part of FBC Dean’s kingdom focus. Miller said he often preaches on evangelism and is mentoring deacons, leaders, and members how to start gospel conversations. He recommends a simple two-question evangelistic approach that involves first asking, “Can I ask you a question?” Very few say no. If the person agrees, the second question, he said, should be, “When you go to church, where do you go?”

Everyone will answer that, Miller said. “They will tell you a place they go or they will say they don’t go anywhere. They may say they are not religious.” Regardless of how they answer, the question opens the door for a gospel conversation, Miller said. 

“If someone says, ‘I really don’t believe in all that religion stuff,’ you can ask, ‘Why?’ and boom, you’ve got a conversation,” he explained. “People are having success. We are starting to see the overflow.”

Praying and memorizing Scripture together. 

FBC Dean spends time in prayer, as does the pastor. They also memorize Scripture together. Each week, Miller gives the congregation Scripture to memorize, and he does the work, too. 

On a more personal level, members have also been encouraged to talk to and pray for their neighbors. Neighbors may know one another in Dean, but situations change and sometimes it can be a long amount of time between meaningful visits. Even so, people need the encouragement of prayer.

“[Miller’s] passion and the church’s desire to reach their community for Jesus has allowed the church to thrive,” said Anthony Svajda, SBTC pastoral ministries associate. “God is doing great things.”

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