“And when He had got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.”
Mark 5:18-19 (NKJV)
Who says you can’t go home again? Every now and then, God calls a leader to return to and reach his hometown. Church planter Corey Smallwood is one such man. He grew up in Augusta County, VA and graduated from Fort Defiance High School, where he played football and was known as part of the New Hope community. He was saved at the age of 15 and called into ministry shortly after. In 2008, he accepted a position as the youth/associate pastor at SherLynd Baptist Church in Lyndhurst, VA. This is where he has grown and developed over the past eight years, serving with Pastor Allen George.
Even as a 17-year-old, Corey felt God wanted him to plant a church in New Hope. In 2014, the Lord began moving in his heart to bring that vision to fruition.
“Corey and I prayed about it for almost a year,” says Pastor Allen. “And then we had the deacons pray about it for another six months before we went to the church. As God began to solidify the idea that SherLynd Baptist Church would plant a church out of our [own] church, it helped us think differently about church planting. As a small rural church, we thought church planting was for larger churches or [that we] didn’t have the ability or the knowledge to plant a church.”
Corey, Pastor Allen, and SBC of Virginia church planting strategist Josh Turner met to discuss the possibility. Eventually, Corey and his launch team attended PLANT training with the SBCV, and Corey was approved as an SBCV church planter.
With a population of 842, New Hope isn’t exactly bustling with people, but it’s where Corey felt called to plant.
I feel like this was done in the total opposite way in which the ‘experts’ would say to do this. I didn’t pull out a map to find the biggest city with the biggest need. I didn’t have all the logistics or statistics for the area [where] God called me to plant. I didn’t know what the numbers were, how many were unchurched, what the population was. I only knew that I had a deep, burning desire to plant in my hometown. There was never a doubt on this location—the only doubt was, ‘God, are you sure I’m the right guy?’ Once I knew God was calling me to plant in New Hope, I began the research. I quickly realized that there was a great need for a church plant here.
From the time I was about 17, I felt the call to plant a church in my hometown. God gave me a very clear vision of where He wanted me, down to the very building we are in. Now 15 years later, I am a church planter in my hometown in the exact building God prepared for me 15 years ago. I live three houses down from the church, and it’s like I am living out a dream… We serve an amazing God!
With the support and partnership of SherLynd Baptist Church and the SBCV, New Life Baptist Church began holding public services in January 2017. Since that time, they’ve had 17 baptisms. In July 2017, just six months into its existence, New Life Baptist Church had 167 in attendance at its largest service to that point.
SherLynd Baptist Church took the risk to send people and resources, and now more souls are being saved. For churches hesitant to plant, Pastor Allen encourages them to “think Kingdom. What difference does it make if you have 1,000 people in your church or in 4 different churches? It’s all about advancing the Kingdom, and being Kingdom minded is crucial when planting a church.”
In Matthew 6:33, Jesus said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (KJV). That “Kingdom-first” perspective is seen in the ministry and growth of First Baptist Church of Grottoes, VA. They opened their building this summer to host a joint VBS with New Hope Baptist Church, a new church plant. Two churches doing VBS together? What a powerful testimony of unity!
Pastor Mark Wingfield, who has led the growth and expansion of FBC Grottoes’ ministries, explains, “We’d never done it like this, but it helped us understand the big picture of what God is doing in the Shenandoah Valley. …Our VBS this year was a testimony to the unity found in the Gospel.”
Leading up to VBS, the two churches held planning meetings. Both contributed financially and by providing volunteers. “It was great to work together and learn from [FBC] how it’s done,” shares Danielle Smallwood, wife of church planter Corey Smallwood.
Would your church be willing to partner with another church for a summer outreach like VBS? Contact your regional missionary or another church in your area to explore the possibility.