There were so many times Mark Baca considered leading his family away from the church they had called home for nine years.
Difficulties at the church abounded. Several pastors had come and gone. Parts of the building were in disrepair. Attempts to set things in order at the church were wobbled by COVID. Attendance began to drop as some members lost patience and went elsewhere.
“There were times when it was really rough,” Baca said. “But every time me and my wife tried to go somewhere else, God kept pulling us back and we felt like He was telling us, ‘I know you want to leave, but you need to stay.’”
Baca and others who stayed at the church are now seeing God’s hand move through a partnership with a sister church located just two miles away, Parkside Baptist Church. In late 2021, leaders at the struggling church approached Parkside’s pastor, Jeff Humphrey, to ask if his church would be willing to take over the property and help revitalize it.
Humphrey, who has been at Parkside for about two years, said he wasn’t sure if his church would be willing or ready to take on that kind of project. But there was a deeper connection between the churches that brought with it a willingness to answer the call for help. In the late 1950s, Parkside was responsible for planting the church, which at the time was called Hyde Park Baptist Church. But over the years, difficulties led the church to become a campus site of another church in the area.
So in essence, the struggling church wasn’t just a sister congregation of Parkside. It was born of it. Several of the members at Parkside were once members at Hyde Park.
“Because our people had so many fond feelings for the years that they saw ministry going on there, they were like, ‘Let’s do it,’” Humphrey said.
‘A new day’
Parkside took a holistic approach to the revitalization project at the struggling church, which was rebranded Living Hope Fellowship. Part of that approach led Humphrey to ask members of his church to become temporary missionaries who would not only attend Living Hope on Sunday mornings but assist with many of the necessary tasks that would be needed to revitalize the church. Sixteen Parksiders answered that call, with some of them joining the worship team and others taking teaching roles. That team has also taken the lead in making improvements to the building, which included replacing a cross that had once been fixed to the outside of the facility but had since fallen.
Humphrey said it was critical in the first phase of the revitalization—which is being aided by funding from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention—to create a vibrant worship experience at Living Hope and add Sunday school classes for all ages by Easter. Ed Fleming, a member of Parkside who had been involved with other revitalization-type projects, was called to serve as Living Hope’s interim pastor through the first phase. In addition to preaching, Fleming said he began meeting with members one-on-one to give them an opportunity to be heard after weathering a difficult season for the church. Some of those conversations were difficult, Fleming said, but necessary and productive.
“I was trying to encourage the people and rebuild trust,” Fleming said, “and to show them that it was a new day.”
More healthy churches, not fewer
Denison has a population of just over 26,000 people located in what is known as the Texoma region of the state, consisting of a cluster of mostly rural counties on the Texas-Oklahoma border. According to census numbers, Denison has experienced roughly 10 percent growth since the 2010 count, and in Texas, populations are only increasing and becoming more diverse. In other words, more healthy churches are needed, not fewer. Humphrey said the Texoma population is projected to double in the next 10-15 years.
But there was another reason leaders at Parkside didn’t want Denison to lose another church.
“We hated to see that place not be a church,” said Johnnie Smith, a 77-year-old Parkside deacon who began attending Hyde Park Baptist Church shortly after it was started. Smith is now among the group of temporary missionaries at Living Hope. “We were very sad in our spirit that the possibility existed that God’s Word might not be shared on that corner anymore. … We just felt very strongly that we wanted to do whatever we could to keep that going.”
Living Hope Fellowship has now moved into the next phase of the project, which will focus on equipping those involved in the worship service and Sunday school classes to reach, teach, and minister. Humphrey said the hope and prayer is that Parkside can turn the operations of Living Hope back over to its own leaders by the end of 2022 or early 2023.
Encouragement in the congregation is rising as it watches what the Lord is doing through an effort that Humphrey calls “cooperative, not competitive.” When the Living Hope revitalization project began in January, the church had 26 adults and eight children regularly attending. By the end of April, there were 36 adults and 10 children attending. Easter was a particularly encouraging time for the church, as 73 people were in attendance after the congregation did an outreach blitz in the neighborhoods surrounding the church. By May, the church experienced its first two baptisms since the partnership began.
Baca, who was baptized at an early age but realized he had not fully trusted Jesus until years later, was one of them. He is now serving on the worship team and with the church’s youth.
Humphrey said Parkside has a vision to continue partnering with other churches to revitalize and also to plant new churches. In such partnerships, he sees a picture of the gospel that brings together rather than separates, that cooperates rather than competes.
“Texoma needs a lot of great, healthy churches that have a lot of diversity in reaching a very diverse population that’s coming our way,” he said. “We don’t want to compete. We want to collaborate. If we can do something to help the other churches around us be stronger, let’s go, because if God wins, we all win.”