Sevier Heights Baptist helps prevent sister church from closing its doors
MARYVILLE — Business as usual simply was not working for Smoky View Baptist Church.
About two years ago, the church was on the verge of closing its doors, said pastor Mark Martin.
Attendance had dwindled to about 50 people at a church that had once thrived on its site which overlooks the Smoky Mountains, just on the outskirts of Maryville.
The remnant who remained was discouraged, the pastor recalled.
“We had a small handful of people doing all the ministries that we could keep going.”
Martin noted members were “burning out.” In addition to the ministries they were also having to clean the facility and keep the grass mowed because they did not have money to pay to have it done.
Bills were beginning to pile up and the church was having a hard time just paying its pastor each week.
“The church (members) were discouraged,” Martin recalled.
“Something had to change,” he added.
Martin, who has been with the church for 11 years, considered moving from full-time status to a bivocational role but “God did not open doors for me to go part-time. I was trying,” he said.
One option included just closing its doors “We were so desperate and were at the point of just quitting, Martin recalled.
Other options included giving the property to another church willing to move to the site and joining that congregation, or becoming a “satellite” site for a larger church.
“The church had been broken spiritually and emotionally,” Martin observed. “They were willing to do whatever God wanted to do. They did not want to see this place (the church property) turned into a mall or bank.”
They were willing to give up their identity and join with another church if that was God’s will, the pastor added.
In 2010 Martin approached Hollie Miller, pastor of Sevier Heights Baptist Church and explained the situation and asked if Sevier Heights would accept Smoky View as a satellite campus.
“They wanted to give us the property and the building and we could do what we wanted with it,” Miller recalled.
“We looked at it and decided that was not the best thing,” Miller said.
He noted Sevier Heights is starting churches in other areas. Having a satellite campus within a 15-minute drive of the church was “not our passion,” Miller continued.
“We felt that the best thing was to help them get back on their feet. That would be best for them and for the community,” Miller acknowledged. “Our people have been excited about helping the church.”
One thing that Sevier Heights did that has made a difference has been providing a part-time staff member to help Martin at Smoky View. Martin was the only remaining staff member and he had to lead music, preach and do a myriad of other tasks.
Butch Parker soon moved over to Smoky View and began leading the music as well as teaching a Sunday School class.
Other families have gone to help off and on over the last two years and Sevier Heights is still encouraging families to go and assist. A new video is being prepared as a promotion for the ministry.
Miller is convinced that more established churches should take on struggling churches and help them succeed.
“There are churches in Tennessee that won’t be here in 20 years without some help,” Miller maintained. Helping existing churches that may be struggling now is not only healthy for the church but for the community as well, the Sevier Heights pastor and former Tennessee Baptist Convention president, said.
Martin agreed. Noting there are churches in East Tennessee “on every corner,” there are existing churches that are just begging for help,” he said.
Martin said the families from Sevier Heights came, “rolled up their sleeves” and started working.
And the results have been extremely positive.
Attendance has climbed back to the mid-80s each week and “we have gone from barely making ends meet to having money in the bank,” Martin said.
This past summer the church held its first Vacation Bible School in several years. The church had stopped VBS a few years ago because “we could not afford it, and did not have enough workers,” Martin said.
This year, the church could not only afford it but had enough people to staff it. They ended up with about 80 in attendance, including workers.
Martin also noted his church has begun to “think outside the box.”
They have found different ways of doing their services in the summer months. They began having lunch on Sunday after worship with a brief afternoon service afterwards, in lieu of an evening service.
Martin said the change has been dramatic. “There has been a change in attitude. People are excited about what is taking place,” he said.
“Folks who were once ready to quit are now energized.”
Martin is appreciative to Miller and Sevier Heights for how they handled the situation.
“They did not take the church over nor did they tell us what to do or how to do it,” he said.
“If I need help, they are willing to provide it,” Martin said of Miller and other staff members at Sevier Heights.
And it has not been a one-side partnership. Smoky View, located on 11 scenic acres with the Smoky Mountains as a backdrop, has a large picnic pavilion which they allow Sunday School classes from Sevier Heights to use when they want. “It’s a good partnership,” he said.
Miller also has been pleased with what he has seen.
“Most likely when the time comes for our formal relationship with Smoky View to end, I would like to do it again,” Miller said.
“I would like to make that a part of our DNA.”
Yet, Miller does not see the relationship ending at this point.
“We are committed to a continual relationship as long as it’s needed and we are making a difference.”