No Expiration Date: West Virginia Congregation Eyes Turnaround
By Carl Stagner
The church, originally established in 1966, is blessed with an exceptional heritage of Christ-centered ministry and faithful proclamation of the gospel. As the reality of cultural and generational shifts shape the landscape of the quaint community of Rainelle, West Virginia, the church has taken steps to ensure this remarkable legacy continues. While the size and resources of the congregation were in decline, the hearts of the people were primed for something new. Like the early disciples who would stop at nothing to reach the lost, Highland First Church of God has determined to relinquish comfort for transformation.
“We’re not going to be about those who are presently at the church. Our passion will be for those who are not yet here.” This sentiment, echoed by Pastor Bob Daniels, sums up the lens through which all new ministry activities are now filtered at Highland First Church. “We must be a church geared to reach the lost in the community; so as God directs and moves, we need flexibility to make necessary changes.”
Not everyone greets change with a handshake and a smile. But the believers at Highland First Church fully embraced their state ministries’ offer of financial support in exchange for temporary oversight. A turnaround team meets with Pastor Daniels on a regular basis as outreach strategies are developed and implemented. While the congregation had to set aside their bylaws, this concession is all but eclipsed by their newfound passion for ministry. “Their love for the Lord has reached a new level,” Daniels explains. “Their level of love and pride for their church body has reached new heights.”
The excitement for what’s going on in Rainelle is only rivaled by that of the leadership at West Virginia Ministries. It’s been twenty years since a project of this magnitude has been launched, and for state health coach Thom Pratt, it’s a welcome opportunity. “We wanted a church that was really serious about turning around, not just interested in saving themselves from dying. I believe we’ve got the right folks with the right attitude and spirit. We’re already starting to see some numeric and heart growth in these people who are uniting around a vision to reach their community for Christ. We’re really thrilled about what’s going on there.”
After just a few months at Highland First Church, Daniels is diving head-first into the deep end of the outreach pool. He’s already met with the mayor, preached at an ecumenical unity service, and planned a carnival for the town’s children. The church is also actively practicing 360 Revolution evangelism, which Daniels helped plan while serving on the Youth Network Team of the Church of God. In all of these outreach activities, the Church of God in West Virginia has provided generous support. Liberty Street Church of God in nearby Parkersburg supported the turnaround in Rainelle by sending volunteers and games to assist with the carnival. The Liberty Street volunteers proudly donned T-shirts with Highland’s name in support of the turnaround.
For the centennial celebration for the community of Rainelle, Daniels landed the role of town cofounder in a reenactment of how the town came to be. During the opening ceremonies, Daniels rode a mule onto the set, theatrically bustin’ up the festivities while offering the crowd a humorous glimpse into the past.
Believers and nonbelievers are taking notice of the church’s keen interest in the welfare of the town. and Highland First Church of God is rallying behind a turnaround that has only just begun. On the last Sunday in April, the church celebrated six baptisms!
For more information about the 360 Revolution, visit www.chogy.org/node/8.