GERMANTOWN — Forest Hill Baptist Church here is like a lot of area churches, said Don Marston, pastor. It has more facility than it needs and can really afford.
The congregation is now small, older in age, and worships in a traditional style, explained Marston, who has served the church for five years. Thus Forest Hill Baptist is having a hard time attracting young families and keeping them, he added, though the congregation is paying its bills and still has a wonderful ministry.
Members tithe and “love the Lord,” said Marston. Forest Hill especially is a “great missions giving church,” he added. But if it doesn’t include younger people, the congregation which is made up of about 80 active members, will dwindle, he noted.
“We don’t want to go out twiddling our thumbs,” Marston stated. He explained that he especially wants his ministry to “make a difference.” At age 31 Marston was diagnosed with cancer. After several years of treatment, several brushes with death, a second bout of cancer, and a bone marrow transplant, he was finally deemed cancer free.
At that time pastor of Cordova Baptist Church, Cordova, Marston became involved in ministry to cancer patients which led to him being named director of patient support for a cancer clinic in Memphis for 12 years before re-entering the church ministry.
A phone call
A few months ago Marston received a phone call from Danny Sinquefield, a friend. Sinquefield is pastor of Faith Baptist Church, Bartlett, which also is in metropolitan Memphis; and was president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention from 2008-09.
Sinquefield asked Marston to meet with Kennon Vaughan, who leads the non-denominational ministry on Christian discipleship, Downline, which he founded seven years ago. Sinquefield explained that Vaughan was feeling called by God to plant a church and Sinquefield wondered if Forest Hill might be open to sharing its facility with a new church.
Marston already knew about the popular Downline Institute for students and their leaders and ministers. He knew the ministry “had been very, very successful,” added Marston.
He met with Vaughan and agreed to take the idea to his congregation.
This kind of decision would prevent the need to ever sell the facility and allow the church to leave a certain legacy, noted Marston.
A few months later Forest Hill Baptist agreed to let Vaughan and a core group of Harvest Church try to develop a new congregation in its facilities. The two groups signed a three-year lease.
Soon Forest Hill was a place of great activity. For several months Vaughan and core group members of Harvest remodeled the gym of Forest Hill into a beautiful sanctuary, explained Marston.
Then in September Harvest Church began meeting drawing about 150 people. On its official launch day in October Harvest drew about 500 people.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in a new church before,” declared Marston.
Quickly, Harvest, with permission from Forest Hill, converted one of the church’s ball fields into a parking lot.
Harvest continues to draw about 500 people to Sunday morning activities and both churches now hold Sunday School or Bible study simultaneously and still have enough room. The children’s wing of Forest Hill, which it had updated several years ago in hopes of drawing families with young children, is now filled with children, noted Marston.
Tommy Condrey, a member of Forest Hill, noted that all of this has been “an amazing experience.”
Marston agreed. He said he has come to love the staff of Harvest Church.
Another good thing which has occurred is that Harvest Church has been accepted as a member of Mid-South Baptist Association, based in metropolitan Memphis, because it was determined to “be within the framework of Southern Baptist doctrine,” reported Marston, who was moderator of the association at the time. Vaughan already was familiar with Southern Baptists because many of the churches he worked with through Downline were Southern Baptist. He also began working with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention while leading Downline.
How is Forest Hill Baptist doing through all of this?
“We have helped a new, strong church to get going,” said Marston.
All of this has “breathed life into us. It has been good for us and it has been good for them,” he added.
“We are stronger now than before this happened. What is our future now? … Only God knows our future. We only know God wanted us to do this,” concluded Marston.