By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
SALISBURY, Md.—Oak Ridge Baptist Church (ORBC) began in 1962 as a community outreach from Allen Memorial Baptist Church on South Division Street in Salisbury, Md. Their dream was to reach young families with lots of kids.
The church experienced some initial success, outgrowing two properties, and even buying some land and constructing a building to accommodate all the young families and their children.
But just before the church celebrated the grand opening of that building, the pastor resigned.
“As you can imagine, it had an impact on the momentum and growth of the church,” shared Brian Moss, now ORBC’s senior pastor, at a Dream Church Conference held at ORBC.
Under his leadership in the last 12 years, ORBC has increased in average weekend attendance from 50 to over 1,400 people. They have formed missional partnerships with local schools and Salisbury University, sent over 100 members on short-term mission trips just last year, completed four successful capital campaigns raising over $10 million without the help of outside consultants, and baptized over 1,100 people.
But in 1983, the church had called its sixth pastor. Over the next 14 years, the growth of the church stagnated, and its focus began to turn inward.
“The emphasis changed from reaching the new to keeping the few. And as happens to any church that turns inward, they found themselves embroiled in a conflict,” Moss related. “In 1997, the church leadership had a serious division. Sides were drawn and leaders took with them most of the people. And the church was left mortally wounded.”
He added, “In those dark years, the church wondered if Satan, in fact, had won. Would the church ever see new life? Should the church close its doors and just give up? Should they simply decide to move on?”
It was during that period of time a very small core group of believers, about 12, began to meet together and pray and seek God’s face in a way they have never done before. “They asked God, whether He had hope and whether He had a dream and was there a next chapter in the history of this little church hidden in the woods?” Moss said.
That group began to believe that God did have a next chapter.
In 1999, the church’s path crossed with Moss, who at the time was graduating from Southwestern Seminary. The church contacted him to become a bivocational pastor so they could invest all the money they would have spent on paying a full-time pastor into money for reaching new families.
Moss initially committed to stay bivocational for five years so the ministry, and his personal finances, could be sustained.
“Over the next several years, God began to grow the church and as we focused on reaching people, we also began to see changes in the church. It wasn’t long before we quickly had outgrown that small parcel of land on that church hidden away in the woods,” Moss shared.
The church unanimously decided to sell the old building and went into a leased space inside the K-Mart shopping center “where they believed God could do the impossible.”
The church tripled in a period of just three years. They saw God do incredible things as hundreds of people gave their lives to Christ and followed Him in believers’ baptism.
“We knew the dream had become a reality,” Moss said.
Over time, though he loved his job as an engineer, Moss felt convicted that he needed to step out in faith and work full-time at the church. This meant a 50 percent pay cut.
On paper, even after making all the sacrifices he could—eliminating all extra bills such as cable, withdrawing their children from Christian schools—Moss had no idea how it would work.
But a year later, in a moment of epiphany, he realized he had survived. He and his wife did pay the bills. They did tithe. And they did give above and beyond to the capital campaigns. And the church had continued to grow.
Knowing they didn’t want to stay in a leased space forever, ORBC’s leaders pondered the possibility of buying the shopping center. As a church family, they made the decision to go for it, and in 2006, they bought the entire shopping center: 50 acres and all the buildings.
Others took notice of the church’s transformation. Several leaders from other churches have met with Moss and his staff in informal one-on-one meetings to learn the nuts and bolts of what has led to their success. And in 2007, Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson featured ORBC in their book, Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can, Too.
But Moss is quick to note there isn’t anything special about Oak Ridge. “God wants to bless every church. We just need to be obedient and do what He tells us to do,” he said. “Our passion is to see God keep doing what God has been doing. We’re crazy enough to believe that the God who resurrected this church can do it again and will do it again in the generations ahead.”
ORBC will hold its second annual Dream Church Conference on March 1, 2013. To learn more, visit www.orbc.net.