By Sharon Mager and Shelley Mahoney
BETHANY, De. — God is lovingly causing a reblooming of life at Bethany Baptist Church in Wilmington, Del. A beautiful picture of revitalization and rebirth, the church increased from 40 regular attendees in 2015 to more than 200 in 2018. They’ve seen 127 new believers baptized in the last three years, and a thriving new student ministry has taken root. And all it took was hundreds of hours of prayer, an unfathomable display of the power of God — and a basketball.
Pastor Jack Weight came to the church a few years ago and brought his son, Jack III, with him as a student minister. At this time most of the small congregation was over 50 years old, and the church was struggling with the decision about whether they should close their doors and sell their building or take a step of faith and reach out to a new pastor for a desperately needed church revitalization. They prayerfully chose to contact Weight.
“I believe the church had many of the pieces in place to thrive,” says Weight. “They just needed some vision and leadership.”
Weight firmly believes that “the church needs to be outward-focused. So many churches are inward-focused, and that leads to churches plateauing and ultimately to dying.”
The church fully bought into Weight’s vision and began looking for new ways to reach out. The unlikely solution was found in a basketball hoop in front of the church building. Teens gathered to play, but no one was engaging them. Weight got his game on and headed out to shoot hoops. The teens enjoyed the competition and relationships formed. Others from the church joined in. Soon there was a consistent, unreached group that the church was engaging on a regular basis.
Families in the neighborhood began taking notice of this new church outreach and embraced the genuine authenticity and compassion displayed by the church. They formed relationships and attachments, and, when they were invited to move from the basketball court to the sanctuary, community residents intently and enthusiastically began attending the church, receiving the Gospel, and following through in baptism.
“Authenticity is very important to us,” emphasizes Weight. “They saw we were real and they were attracted to that. They came in, and God started saving them!”
Bethany Church has continued to step out on faith, just as they did on the day they called Weight. The church is working on a $200,000 renovation project that will fix neglected spots in the building, create an atmosphere that is appealing to the younger generation and provide an overall experience that is more positive and accessible for individuals and families with special needs.
“We hope that making our church building more accessible will also allow us to further engage our community,” explains Weight.
More than a quarter of the people baptized at Bethany Church have been students, and the church is now plugged into the Baptist Student Ministry 20 minutes up the road.
This is part of a series of articles titled “Baptists & Baptisms,” printed in our Winter BaptistLIFE magazine.
Shelley Mahoney is a freelance writer and an adjunct professor of communication at Anne Arundel Community College.
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