Echoes Through the Hollers: Revitalization Reverberates from Kentucky Congregation

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Southeast

By Carl Stagner

A holler is defined by Merriam-Webster as a “chiefly dialectal variant of hollow,” a “depressed or low part of a surface, especially a small valley or basin.” Outside of Appalachia, the term may not be familiar to everyone, but there’s not a soul in the hills of eastern Kentucky and adjoining states that can’t immediately picture the ubiquitous geographic feature. Nestled at the confluence of several hollers sits a building which serves as the meeting place for a congregation that, only two years ago, voted to leave the denomination they were a part of and join the Church of God movement. Since that landmark decision, spiritual renewal has broken out at Blaine Church of God, reverberating revitalization through the hollers and far beyond.

Contained in Webster’s definition of holler is the word “depressed.” While the definition intends to describe the contour of the land, the contours of local culture suggest the prevalence of low morale; generational poverty runs rampant across these hills, while the lure of drugs has proven a particularly problematic factor in societal malaise—all the more reason why Daniel Castle, pastor of Blaine Church of God, couldn’t resist the divine call to invest in his own community by filling the void of spiritual leadership.

“I reside in an Appalachian community where many missionaries were sent in the past,” Pastor Daniel explains. “The region is known for being poor and lacking formal education and resources. In fact, the ‘War on Poverty’ began just a few miles up the road in 1964 when President Johnson spoke words of hope while standing on the front porch of an old cabin tucked outside of Inez, Kentucky. Many things have changed for the good since then, but as circumstances would have it, our region still faces much of the same challenge as it did many years ago.”

Blaine Church of God exterior

Pastor Daniel loves his neighbors dearly. He describes them as hard-working and able to contend with life’s challenges apart from the resources more readily accessible to others. He’s observed that a general sense of pride “aids survival, but can be a detriment when accepting help from outsiders…trust is earned around here.”

Therefore, people must see the love of God, not just hear about it. Daniel has been nothing but eager to lead the congregation to put their faith into action. Since taking the reins of leadership at Blaine Church of God, the congregation has partnered with a local food bank to host a community Easter egg hunt; raised funds to buy and refurbish a home for an elderly lady who was living in a Jeep; worked with local government to host a warming shelter for the homeless during severe cold; connected with families who lost loved ones to overdose, and supply funeral services and meals; hosted NA/AA meetings; offered emergency heating and electric bill assistance; sponsored multiple movie nights and a community festival; given free labor to many emergency repairs on homes; held multiple community picnics; and teamed up with agencies to put on specialty clinics and workshops (think food and clothing distribution, vaccine clinics, etc.).

“We gained traction through service to others,” Pastor Daniel reflects. “It is dirty work, at times, but it’s worth the effort. The byproduct is growth. I think that is because people are attracted to something greater than themselves. It doesn’t take much money to do what we do, either (good thing, because we don’t have a lot!). Because there are no salaries to contend with, we operate on a fraction of what we receive in tithes. Since everyone is a volunteer, ministry is everyone’s responsibility. I estimate we spend over 50 percent of our tithes and offerings outside the church house’s four walls. If we have a big project, we simply crowdfund.”

Community picnic at Blaine Church of God.

With the closest McDonald’s 20 miles away and the closest Starbucks 50 miles away, venues like Blaine Church of God naturally become the hub of small community activity. That’s okay with the congregation—they don’t want to become insular. They’ve learned that they exist to love others into the kingdom of God. The Holler Initiative, an idea Pastor Daniel had, expounds upon this predisposition to see transformation happen broadly.

“I printed a map of Blaine with a four-mile radius circled around the church house,” Daniel explains. “I had the idea of walking in each holler for prayer. Those off-the-beaten-path areas have been the devil’s playground for far too long. I think we can do something about that. One of our leaders suggested we “plant” seeds when we pray. So, our children are in the process of gathering stones. Over the coming months, they will paint these in preparation for the Holler Initiative. Hopefully, we will lose our cell phone signal but find a greater connection to God.”

Daniel Castle’s personal and ministerial journey involves several twists and turns, but ultimately led him to exactly where God wants him. Military service, Mid-America Christian University, and Asbury University are major milestones in the development of a servant leader whose heart burns with love for the Lord and compassion for community. He credits numerous leaders along the way for steering him on the right path, but also credits the congregation at Blaine for their tenacity, perseverance, and flexibility. “The pastor I replaced faithfully kept these doors open,” he acknowledges. “I thank the First Baptist Church of Louisa and its people for making this possible. We are simply harvesting what they planted.”

Another celebratory baptism at Blaine!

People are accepting Christ, rededicating their lives to the Lord, and getting baptized. Chains are being broken and relationships are being restored. The “original 14” who voted to affiliate with the Church of God haven’t left and an estimated 60 people now call Blaine Church of God home. Theirs is the story not only of a church turnaround, but the revival of a longstanding work of God. Pastor Daniel Castle takes it all in stride.

“It is an important reminder that God doesn’t have a mission for the church but, rather, God has a church for his mission,” he concludes. “This is profound as we embody the Great Commission locally and take responsibility for our community…. What started as an experiment has become our experience. I can’t help but feel this is an excellent way to do ministry. We are in touch with our community in ways I never imagined.”

Learn more about the Church of God movement at

Feature (top) photo: Pastor Daniel baptizes a believer in the great outdoors near Blaine Church of God in February 2023.

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